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Highly secure mobile phones

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In the previous post we saw that ordinary mobile phones offer only limited protection against eavesdropping. Therefore, special devices are designed to keep conversations safe. Here we will list a range of mobile phones, which offer a high level of security and are therefore suited for top level telecommunications.

The following information is gathered from the internet, only to provide a general overview. For more information, provided by the manufacturer, please click the title links or the fact sheet.


General Dynamics: Sectéra Wireless GSM Phone
- Produced from 2002 - 2012 by the American company General Dynamics Corp.
- For GSM and GPRS networks.
- Ordinary Motorola Timeport GSM phone, with a special Security Module attached at the back side of the phone, replacing the battery cover.
- Approved by the NSA for conversations up to the level of Top Secret* and by NATO for up to Cosmic Top Secret. This phone is also used by the British government for mobile communications up to the level of Secret.*
- Encryption with US Type 1 and approved Suite B (including AES and ECDH) encryption algorithms.
- There are slightly modified modules for the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. There's also a version, using the AES algorithm only, which is exportable to other countries.
- The price of this phone is 2.095,- US dollar.
- Fact sheet (PDF)


Sectra: Tiger XS
- Produced since 2005 by the Swedish company Sectra AB.
- For GSM and UMTS networks.
- This is a personal encryption device, which is connected in between a headset and an ordinary mobile phone (via Bluetooth). Voice data are encrypted by the device, before going into the non-secure telephone.
- Approved in the Netherlands, by the European Commission and by NATO for conversations up to the level of Secret.
- Since 2007, a sligthly modified version of this device is used by Dutch cabinet ministers and high officals of government departments and the Dutch armed forces.*
- Fact sheet (PDF)


Sectra: Tiger 7401
- Produced since 2012 by the Swedish-Dutch company Sectra BV.
- For GSM and UMTS networks.
- Special made mobile telephone, with red and black interfaces, for secure and non-secure connections.
- Approvement by Dutch, European Union and NATO agencies for conversations up to the level Secret is pending.
- For Dutch government officials this phone will replace the Tiger XS device in the course of 2012.*
- Fact sheet (PDF)


Omnisec: Secure Mobile Phone Omnisec 230
- Produced by the Swiss company Omnisec AG.
- For GSM, EDGE and UMTS networks.
- Common HTC smart phone with hardened Android operating system. The encryption engines are stored on a single chip, which is inserted into the phone like a SIM-card.
- Encryption with Omnisec proprietary algorithms using 256-bit keys.
- The price of this phone is said to be around 25.000,- Swiss franks.
- Fact sheet (PDF)


Crypto AG: Crypto Mobile HA-2400
- Produced by the Swiss firm Crypto AG.
- For EDGE and UMTS networks.
- Common high-end Nokia smart phone from the E-series, with Symbian operating system. The crypto capabilities are provided by a single tamper proof chip (the Crypto Mobile HC-9100) on the format of a microSD Card, which is inserted in the memory card slot of the phone.
- Encryption with a customer specific cipher algorithm HCA-820, using 128 or 256-bit keys.
- Fact sheet (PDF)


Telsy: TSM T3
- Produced since 2009 by the Italian company Telsy S.p.A.
- For GSM and UMTS networks.
- Special made telephone handset, with proprietary hardware and software design.
- Encryption with AES, using 256-bit keys or, on demand, proprietary and custom made algorithms.
- Fact sheet (PDF)



Rohde & Schwarz: TopSec Mobile
- Produced since 2008 by the German company Rohde & Schwarz GmbH.
- For GSM and UMTS networks.
- This is a separate encryption device, which is connected in between a headset and a smart phone (both iPhone and Android) with Bluetooth connection. Voice data are encrypted by the device, before going into the non-secure telephone.
- Approved in Germany for conversations only up to the level of Restricted.
- The device secures the key exchange with a 384-bit key ECC algorithm and encrypts the voice data with AES, using a 256-bit key.
- Fact sheet (PDF)


Thales: Teorem
- Produced since 2008 by the French company Thales Group SA.
- For GSM, GPRS, EDGE and UMTS networks.
- Special made handset, with a second display, showing whether the call is secure or not.
- Approved in France for conversations up to the level of Secret.
- In 2010, the French government ordered over 14.000 of these phones, to be used by the president, ministers and high officials of the armed forces and the various ministries that deal with classified defence information.*
- The price of this phone is said to be around 1.500,- euros.


GSMK: CryptoPhone 400
- Produced by the German company Gesellschaft für Sichere Mobile Kommunikation mbH (GSMK).
- For GSM and UMTS networks.
- Customized HTC mobile phone, with the operating system being a stripped down version of Windows Mobile. There are various other models available.
- Encryption with Twofish and AES in parallel, both with 256-bit key length, exchanged using a 4096-bit key Diffie-Hellman algorithm.
- In 2001, the Dutch hacker and digital rights activist Rop Gonggrijp started to work on highly secure phone, which was eventually launched in 2003 as the CryptoPhone 100.
- The price of this phone is 2.618,- euros.


Tripleton: Enigma E2
- Produced since 2012 by the British company IntSec Ltd.
- For GSM and GPRS networks.
- The phone uses the Enigma encryption system developed by Deutsche Telecom. This was following a request from former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, after he was hacked in the 1990s.*
- This Enigma system was first used in a mobile phone, which is sold since 2002 (for 3.200,- euro) in Germany by the Beaucom Group.*
- Encryption with AES, using a 256-bit key, which is exchanged via 1024-bit RSA.
- The price of this phone is 1.320,- pound sterling.



All these phones use a hybrid cryptosystem, in which the conversation is encrypted with a very strong symmetrical cipher, often AES with 256-bit key. This key is then encrypted with a public-key cryptosystem, like RSA or ECC, and transmitted together with the encrypted message. Only the intended recepient can then decrypt the key and henceforth the message. By this method, end-to-end security all the way through the telephone networks is provided.

A number of these mobile phones are made by defense contracters, often primarily for being used by national government and military officials. This is because using telephones, or any other communication device, made by a foreign company always bears the risk of secret backdoors, allowing easy access to the encrypted conversation.

Countries, and also international organisations, without their own production facilities for military grade encryption equipment often go to companies in small or neutral nations, where they expect to have the least damage in case there would be a hidden backdoor.

Some other, more commercial companies providing secure mobile voice solutions are: Nabishi in the UK, PrivateWave from Switzerland, CasperTech from Italy, Secusmart and SecurStar from Germany, Compumatica in The Netherlands, and Gold Lock from Israel.

Another inevitable risk of mobile phones is using them in (public) places where conversations can easily be overheard by other people or by listening devices. Secure wireline desk top phones can counter this threat by installing them in rooms which are secured against eavesdropping. This is also one of the reasons why conversations at the highest level (Top Secret/SCI in the United States, Top Secret elsewhere) are restricted to dedicated wireline circuits only.


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