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Best secure smartphones of 2021

Phone security
(Image credit: Shutterstock)
Best secure smartphones

Though it may be hard to not associate Steve Jobs with the smartphones that we’ve come to not only love but also find vital to our day to day transactions, it was actually IBM’s Simon, the first personal communicator, that first gave us a glimpse of the convenience technology can bring into our lives.

At present, even the least tech-savvy individual can’t do without his smartphone for more than a few hours, and almost everything is now done with a few clicks and taps - from taxes to setting up appointments, to even doing groceries. That being said, the non-smartphone era feels like dark times- uncertain, boring, cold. 

26 years later, we’re provided the opportunity to choose from thousands of different smartphone models offering a handful of features to tailor fit our needs. We’ve come so far from the bulky accessories that allowed us to only make phone calls, to small devices that can do complex tasks, search the Internet, take long videos, watch our favorite shows, and even share files.  

As convenient as these mobile devices are, they have also become vulnerable to cyber attacks, privacy breaches, and unnecessary data theft. Heck, even identity theft can easily be done with a lost smartphone and a stalker can easily hunt you down with your GPS tracker a.k.a. smartphone. That’s because we 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, but the threats have grown one too many that these features start to feel insufficient. The following smartphones are considered the best when it comes to security:

Sirin Labs Finney U1

(Image credit: Sirin)

1. Sirin Labs Finney U1

A secure smartphone with a built-in cold storage crypto wallet

Reasons to buy
+Blockchain-enabled+Secure transactions+Multi-layered security suite+Decentralized apps
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Lacks wireless charging

Running on the Sirin OS which is well-known for its layers of security (Security Suite) and for its decentralized apps, the Finney U1 provides the best kind of protection from cyber security threats. This revolutionized ultra secured Blockchain smartphone also features an embedded cold storage crypto wallet, 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 the security conscious consumers, who are exactly Sirin Labs’ target. Finney UI is definitely a gem in the blockchain era. From a secure purchase from Sirin Labs using an exclusive payment method (SRN/the Sirin Token) to cyber protection from Behavioural 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 from getting into unwanted hands. Its steep price starts at $999, but it’s a decent price to pay for an ultra secure smartphone. 

Bittium Tough Mobile 2 C

(Image credit: Bittium)

A rugged smartphone that's also secure

Reasons to buy
+Layers of security+Disk encryption+HW integrity check+Tamper detection
Reasons to avoid
-Steep price

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 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. 

Purism Librem 5

(Image credit: Purism)

An open source secure smartphone for the privacy conscious

Reasons to buy
+Open source operating system (PureOS)+Private information protection+32GB Storage+3D Rendering
Reasons to avoid
-Steep price-Short battery life

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 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. 

Silent Circle Blackphone 2

(Image credit: Silent Circle)

4. Silent Circle Blackphone 2

A secure smartphone with comprehensive security features

Reasons to buy
+Encryption+GoSilent Firewall+Enterprise-grade security
Reasons to avoid
-Steep price-Short battery life

Silent Circle’s reputation in security comes from co-founder Phil Zimmermann, father of PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) and ZRTP (Zimmermann Real-time Transport Protocol). Since the Blackphone 2 was initially aimed for business and military use, it uses enterprise-grade security, staying true to their slogan, “Private by design.” 

Keeping all the features expected of a smartphone, the Silent Circle Blackphone 2 while securing your data the best way possible. In fact, although not aimed to the general consumer market, the Blackphone 2 is user-friendly. Blackphone 2’s Silent OS, which is essentially a modified Android version, gives you more control of your privacy than you can have any luck with on any other smartphone. You can also encrypt your SMS, voice and video calls, file sharing, and even conference calls (for a monthly fee, but it’s a reasonable price to pay for security.) Since encryption is done on the device, all conversations are kept private, reducing the risks of having anyone from outside of your circle listen in. 

With the help of Qualcomm, Silent Circle was able to create a chip that allows secure partitioning, giving each of the spaces its own separate privacy and app permission settings that you can control. This is a great way to avoid exposing any of your data to apps you download and activities you unknowingly give permission to. 

Sirin Solarin

(Image credit: Sirin)

5. Sirin Solarin

The most advanced secure smartphone

Reasons to buy
+Threat detection+Curved Corning Gorilla Glass+Periodic security patches+Full disk encryption
Reasons to avoid
-Hefty price-Heavy (243g)

With Sirin Labs’ outstanding Operating System (OS), they gave us the most sophisticated and luxurious ultra secure smartphone that comes with a hefty price of just a little over $16,000. This is why the Sirin Solarin is made only for those who are willing to shell out a lot of cash for a smartphone. But that’s not to say it’s not worth every penny.

Its powerful 8-core processor, 24 MP camera, and 2560×1440 resolution aren’t the only big features of this luxury smartphone. Solarin has an exceptionally tough Corning Gorilla Glass 4 curved screen to protect the front features of the phone, while internal security comes in multiple layers. This includes the Security Shield that you can activate with the Security Switch, end-to-end encryption of VoIP calls and messages (AES-256 encrypted) as well as emails, periodic security patches, and malware protection using a threat protection software from Zimperium.

With its hefty price tag, it’s not unexpected for the market to be quite small, but for the ones who are charmed by its state-of-the-art security and aesthetic features, Solarin does make it difficult for other phones to compete. With its military-grade security, keeping your data secure won’t be an issue. 

How to pick a secure mobile phone

We sat down (virtually of course) with Hutch Hutchison, co-owner and designer of the XOR 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.