The Sirin Solarin, launched in 2016, was featured in this list but has now been discontinued. So too has the previous number four, the Silent Circle Blackphone; the company is now offering an Apple/ Android app instead.
As we are dealing with a niche market here, some or all of the phones in this guide may prove hard to get a hold of. For example, Purism - who make the Librem 5 - is currently experiencing shipping delays which you can check up on here.
Lewis Madison, Graduate Writer
If you're hunting for the best secure smartphone choices around, you've come to the right place.
At present, even the least tech-savvy individual can’t do without a smartphone for more than a few hours, and almost everything is now done with a few clicks and taps.
As convenient as these mobile devices are, they have also become vulnerable to cyber attacks, privacy breaches, and even identity theft (opens in new tab) as many of us tend to store data either on the phone or in the cloud, which becomes easily accessible once your phone lands in the wrong hands.
As far as security goes, smartphone manufacturers have taken it upon themselves to add security features that protect data and information - so we've rounded up the best secure smartphones to put your mind at ease.
- Also check out our roundup of the best secure drives (opens in new tab)
Running on the Sirin OS which is well-known for its layers of security (Security Suite) and for its decentralized apps, the Finney U1 (opens in new tab) provides the best kind of protection from cyber security threats. This revolutionized ultra secured Blockchain (opens in new tab) smartphone also features an embedded cold storage crypto wallet (opens in new tab), its own token conversion center, and embedded apps in the D-Apps (Decentralized Apps) store. The hardened security of the Sirin OS makes sure all of your data are kept private.
The secure embedded cold storage crypto wallet provides protection from tampering and is enhanced by a physical security switch. The balance between security and a simple user interface makes this smartphone a smart choice for security conscious consumers, the target market for Sirin Labs. Finney UI is definitely a gem in the blockchain era. From the exclusive payment method (SRN/the Sirin Token) used to securely purchase the product from Sirin Labs, to cyber protection from the behavioral-based Intrusion Prevention System (IPS), Secured communications (VoIP, text, email) and 3-factor authentication once the phone is in use, Finney offers security features unlike any other.
And that’s all besides the decentralized apps that won’t gather or share your data into unwanted hands. Its steep price starts at $999, but it’s a decent price to pay for an ultra secure smartphone.
- You can learn more about the Sirin Labs Finney U1 here (opens in new tab)
Finnish company Bittium is notorious for secure military communications, so it’s not a surprise when they decided to penetrate the smartphone market, prioritizing security among all other features.
Bittium Tough Mobile 2 C (opens in new tab) features layers of security to keep your data safe. These layers include encryption, authentication and key management features, as well as security checks from boot to runtime, a privacy mode, and an impermeable information security platform loosely based on the Android™ 9 Pie operating system.
The layers of Bittium’s Comprehensive End-to-End Mobile Security, ensuring that data stored in the device and those that are transferred are as protected as possible, start with Bittium’s SafeMove mobile Virtual Private Network (VPN), continuing to its secure mobile device and application management, remote attestation, QTA firmware updates, moving on to more advanced security features namely, tamper detection which alerts the user in the event of an attempted unauthorized log in, disk encryption, OS integrity, secure boot, and HW secure element.
All these security features make Bittium Tough Mobile 2 C not just an ideal smartphone for personal use, but also for corporate use. Making it a more competitive smartphone, Bittium Tough Mobile 2 C comes with an internal backup battery and physical tamper-proof hardware, destroying all data when the device is forced open. It is a tough smartphone that combines wireless connectivity, high-quality embedded design and E2E security.
- Read our full Bittium Tough Mobile 2 C review here (opens in new tab)
Purism is known for the multiple features that focus on giving you control of your software and protecting your sensitive data from common threats. The Purism Librem 5 (opens in new tab) features a kill switch for individual pieces of hardware (3 to be exact), so you can also turn off their sensors. These kill switches are found in the cameras and microphone, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and the cellular baseband.
Security and privacy-focused, Purism Librem 5 have trackers disabled and privacy protection enabled by default. Apart from that, the layered security protection and even its Linux OS further provides security by giving you control over how your information flows within the system i.e., isolating the apps from your operating system, preventing visibility of data from other applications that are running. Security updates, privacy improvements, and bug fixes will ensure the Purism Librem 5’s security is up to date and continuously protects the data.
Secure or not, as a smartphone, the Purism Librem 5 will still offer the essential functionalities of placing and receiving calls, messaging, email, web browsing, and taking photos and videos. Although there is no access to any play store or app store, the phone will still let you use apps using DuckDuckGo, its default search engine over Pure Browser, its Firefox-inspired default web browser.
- Read our full Purism Librem 5 review here (opens in new tab)
How to pick a secure mobile phone
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We sat down (virtually of course) with Hutch Hutchison, co-owner and designer of the XOR (opens in new tab) ultra secure smartphone range, to discuss his thoughts about why secure smartphones should be more than just an after thought as privacy and security come to the fore in 2021.
Luxury has changed over the last two decades. On the outside, it may look similar, but we are not talking about the superficial aspects. Now people want actual substance and worth at the core of the brands and the products they provide. Your data is one of your most valuable assets. Think about it; today a company can be valued in the billions based on the information it holds about people rather than its revenue.
Why people would need a secure phone and what you need to safeguard?
The most obvious area to talk about is voice calls and messages. Businesses are driven by competitive advantage, and for this reason, commercial espionage has been a real thing for centuries.
Inside knowledge of business deals and company weaknesses is pure gold. Beyond this, there is personal communication. The items you choose to share on an intimate basis that, if intercepted, could put you, your family and your loved ones in danger. Personal security is also a consideration, determined by GPS, WIFI mapping or cellular information, your phone knows where it is. If information does get captured, you can be tracked.
Another aspect worthy of comment for obvious reasons is banking information, password managers and other financially sensitive information. None, of us can remember it all, and most likely, it is all locked in your phone somewhere. On a less prominent front, your digital footprint is growing day by day, and the A.I. required to piece it all together evolves at a fantastic pace.
All this data is somewhat benignly used to target advertising. However, if used maliciously all these nuggets of information can be reassembled and used against you either directly or indirectly in actions such as identity theft. We need to start thinking carefully about how much information we leave scattered.
What are the benefits of secure phones?
The benefits of owning such a device are clearly to avoid all the very real downfalls mentioned above. However, there is a subtler agenda here, that of feeling safe. A feeling of vulnerability or peril will spike our ‘fight or flight’ stress response. The medical world has come to realize that this condition is detrimental to our health, disabling our immune systems and closing down our ability to digest correctly amongst a plethora of other side effects. Furthermore, a feeling of safety frees the mind for other things such as creativity, learning and emotional connection. There is a rising awareness regarding looking after yourself – which comes in many forms, from exercise, holistic medicine and a clean environment to digital detoxing and data protection.
What are the things to look for?
What to look for in a secure mobile phone will differ from individual to individual and the budget. As a starting point, the application can be software encrypted. Since 2016, WhatsApp has been offering this for free. Other paid-for applications and dedicated devices also submit this approach. It is the easiest and the cheapest way to improve security over cellular calls and texts.
On the downside, you need a data connection to be present, and notably, the encryption and authentication keys pass through servers. This is a point of weakness. Alternatively, a more protected route is hardware encryption. This encryption is over the cellular system rather than needing mobile data. It is established phone to phone, and can offer a high level of encryption, even military-grade.
In phone system terms the Application sits ‘on top’ of the Operating System, this is also vulnerable to attack, infiltration at this level will literally undermine the security added at the application layer above. Running at this level viruses and worms can infiltrate many protocols within the phone such as the 3GPP mobile protocols, Bluetooth, WiFi and even the SIM card itself. At this level certain measures can be undertaken similar in concept to antivirus SW on your pc to try to prevent malicious code invading the well-known operating systems.
To mitigate this risk, I suggest looking for a mobile phone that features its own proprietary Operating system. This will help ensure that viruses written for the usual operating systems will have no effect. There is another thing to consider, if you think about a fortress, not only is it built strongly, but there are a very limited number of ways in. Pick a handset that offers limited ways in.
No Cellular Data connection, no WiFi, no Bluetooth, no open source data protocols running over the USB connector, because all of these elements are the equivalent of having a fortress with numerous doors! Moving on from the obvious things to look for in a secure phone, having a battery life that is measured in days rather than hours can give one a great sense of security when it comes to staying in touch. Then there are considerations such as ease of use and ergonomics.
These are all key parts of the user experience. The mobile landscape is shifting as users understand the need to protect their communications, networks and data. In an industry that is known for its fast-paced evolution, it is exciting to be part of this revolution and developing a range of products that helps cater to this new 21st century requirement.
- We've also highlighted the best business smartphones (opens in new tab)