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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Moving to 2G feature phone for security will be stupidest thing to do, warns expert; here’s why

Saket Modi, Co-Founder and CEO - Safe Security explains why switching to a feature phone for security reasons could actually be counterproductive.

Written by Nandagopal Rajan | New Delhi |
Updated: August 1, 2021 8:00:42 pm
Nokia, Nokia feature phone,Compromising the security of a 3G feature phone could be even easier than hacking into a smartphone. (Express Photo, Representational)

The fact that a software like NSO’s Pegasus could snoop in on everything you do on your smartphone has prompted many to consider a dumb feature phone for at least some conversations. However, going the Chellam Sir way could be the stupidest thing one could do in the present circumstances, especially if you are the kind of person who could be of interest, warns Saket Modi, Co-Founder and CEO – Safe Security.

“That is an absolute disaster,” Modi says when asked if people should move to feature phones with no smartness at all. “I’ll tell you why. It basically takes less than 15 minutes for a Class 12 computer science kid to listen in to your 2G conversations, it’s that easy,” he says in the latest episode of Our Own Devices.

Modi, who is now based in Palo Alto running his business risk quantification company, explains that 2G uses an authentication and encryption mechanism which was “publicly broken  in 1998 or 1999”. “So it’s been more than 20 years that these have been extremely unsecured ways of communication,” he says, adding that hacking into a 2G communication is as simple as “putting an antenna, connecting it to your laptop, capturing the packets and decrypting it which takes a few minutes”. He adds: “I don’t have a problem with the handsets but the telecom band that you will be using is an extremely unsecured one.”

But it is not all grim news, he says, adding that it’s not easy to unleash a software like Pegasus on everyone because the cost per install is prohibitively high.

So what can someone do to mitigate the threat on their privacy? Well, Modi says the first step is to be aware and to use tools that secure your devices. Then, keep your operating system updated. “It doesn’t matter whether you are on iOS or Android, it’s absolutely a blunder to not have your operating system updated, it’s an extremely important thing to do,” he highlights.

Then Modi suggests the use of multiple messaging platforms, “not one”. “WhatsApp, Signal and most of the chatting applications actually use the same encryption algorithm… but on the other side, there’s a lot of stuff beyond the encryption of messages,” he explains, advocating that user distribute their conversations over different platforms.

Then, he says, “if you can afford, change your phone every nine to 12 months.” One other small thing he wants users to be mindful of is noticing unusual behaviour like “your battery suddenly draining out, or a lot of data being consumed”.

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