The increasing risk of mobile breaches turning smartphones into surveillance devices is behind a growing niche market for devices designed specifically for enhancing privacy, according to UAE-based mobile phone brand, Four.
Smartphones are packed with connected features, with high-definition cameras and GPS location almost universally standard.
They can also be used to turn a mobile phone into a spy device, able to take and record photographs, location data, and even map inside a home or workplace, without the user’s knowledge or permission.
This risk is something that K500, Four’s latest smartphone at just Dh299, is designed to guard against by doing away with the camera and GPS altogether.
“There is a very real concern that your mobile phone could be hijacked by malware, photographing you, friends and family, spying inside the home or workplace,” said Four’s founder and CEO, Faisal Al Bannai.
“This can happen by downloading a seemingly innocent app onto the phone, but within the app are a series of permissions, allowing access to cameras, GPS location and so on, that transform the camera into a spy device. The app is the so-called Trojan horse that installs surveillance software onto the device, and brings intruders into your private environment.”
A significant concern would be ‘peeping Tom’ malware, allowing hackers to collect personal images, via the device’s camera. Combined with GPS, images can become a real threat to personal safety and privacy.
Easy-to-create malware can be dangerously effective in collecting information. In 2012, the US Naval Surface Warfare Centre ran an experiment to find out how much information it could harvest via a relatively simple custom-made smartphone app.
Called PlaceRaider, the app took random, high-resolution images at regular intervals, using GPS and motion sensors to record the time, location and orientation of each image, and uploaded the pictures onto a central server. By analysing the images and accompanying data, the research team was able to produce 3D renderings of building interiors, identifying precisely where valuable items could be found.
The researchers noted that an app such as this could allow thieves to identify targets, and break into homes already knowing exactly where to find your valuables.
With such intrusive malware so simple to create and distribute, the most effective means of protection is to ensure the devices the malware exploits do not enter secure environments. The Four K500 helps achieve this by omitting features that malware depends upon – camera and GPS – while otherwise being a full-featured smartphone.
“The K500 is tailored towards organisations that wish to absolutely eliminate the risk of being spied upon,” said Al Bannai. “There is no camera, and there is no GPS, which are the two key features that allow spyware to record a physical environment. Some workplaces are requiring such devices for reasons of site security, but we believe they can also play an important role in personal safety, and can be of great value to parents concerned about the safety of their children.”
As a brand focused on value, Four tailors its products to offer a carefully planned selection of popular features at a reasonable price, and the K500 is no different. With the exception of camera and GPS, it is a fully connected smartphone, with features including a quad-core processor, 3G connectivity, the latest Android 5.1 Lollipop operating system, 1GB RAM, 8GB memory, and 1900 mAh battery. It comes with two screen protectors and a free flip cover inside the box, along with a one-year warranty from axiom Telecom.
“The Four K500 is designed to fill a very specific need in the market, but it still includes essential features that customers value,” Al Bannai. “And it has a very important additional feature – the confidence that your privacy is protected.”