Cybersecurity pioneer John McAfee has revealed plans to produce the “world’s first truly private smartphone,” which he claims will be the most hack-proof smartphone ever manufactured.
McAfee, creator of the eponymous antivirus program, plans to release the John McAfee Privacy Phone later this year through MGT, a cybersecurity firm that he heads. He shared details about the Privacy Phone exclusively with Newsweek .
“Enormous investment in hardware costs have gone into this,” McAfee says. “The smartphone contains a bank of switches on the back cover that allow the user to physically disconnect the battery, the antennas for WiFi, Bluetooth and geolocation, the camera and the microphone.
“It also will not allow the phone to connect to a Stingray or any other IMSI catcher device. In addition, it contains a web search anonymizer.”
MGT signed a letter of intent with Nordic IT Sourcing Association last month in order to develop security features for the device—the full specs of which will be released publicly the week before its launch. MGT’s other ventures include a bitcoin mining facility in Washington state that claims to produce around 100 bitcoins ($130,000) per month, which would make it one of the largest U.S.-based bitcoin miners.
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The John McAfee Privacy Phone will cost $1,100 and is targeted at enterprise users, though McAfee believes recent spying revelations—such as the Vault 7 documents published by WikiLeaks —could also attract a large number of privacy-conscious consumers. Whether it can achieve this may depend on how user-friendly the device is.
“There is certainly a niche market for such devices. However, the general population tends to value ease-of-use and features more than privacy,” Amit Sethi, senior principal consultant at technology firm Synopsys, tells Newsweek .
“In a world where people knowingly share everything on social media and value convenience over privacy, it is unlikely that a privacy-focussed phone will see widespread use. Security and privacy are rarely among the top deciding factors for users purchasing smartphones.”
Cybersecurity experts have welcomed the news of a privacy-focussed smartphone, arguing that security should be a top priority for all smartphone users due to the increasing vulnerability of such devices to hackers, cybercriminals, and state spying.
“Smartphones are a huge target for attackers,” Tim Erlin, vice president at Tripwire, tells Newsweek . “The more our business, both personal and professional, that we conduct through that high-powered computer in our pocket, the more attractive it makes it for criminals.”
Kyle Wilhoit, a senior security researcher at DomainTools, adds: “I’m a proponent of any privacy-focussed product, and that includes smartphones. To be sufficiently secure, there would need to be a combination of physical and virtual security mechanisms embedded into the device. I would be curious to see the full feature set of such a phone.”
McAfee says physical mechanisms are integral to the device’s security. “Hardware has everything to do with security. Software has everything to do with insecurity,” he tweeted after posting an image of himself holding a prototype of the Privacy Phone.
McAfee plans to release the phone later this year and follow it up with a second-generation device as early as next year.
“It is Version 1,” McAfee says. “It is not hack proof but it does give the user enormous power over his or her privacy and it is light years ahead of the Blackphone or any other phone claiming to be secure.
“Version 2 will be available in the summer of 2018. It will be as hack proof as humanly possible.”
Originally published in Newsweek.