Brazilian company reveals security-minded GranitePhone

Sikur's phone, running a locked-down Android derivative, enables encrypted communications. It's one of several arriving at Mobile World Congress.

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Sikur's security-minded, locked-down GranitePhone is due to ship in the third quarter of 2015.
Sikur's security-minded, locked-down GranitePhone is due to ship in the third quarter of 2015. Stephen Shankland/CNET

BARCELONA -- Brazilian security company Sikur announced the GranitePhone on Tuesday, the latest in a bumper crop of secure-phone efforts at this year's Mobile World Congress show.

The GranitePhone, set to arrive in the third quarter of 2015, offers encrypted text messaging, voice, group chat, and email communications to others with GranitePhones or with iOS and Android devices running the company's software. And it's locked down so other software can't be installed, said Chief Operating Officer Leandro Coletti.

"You can't change the rules, you can't access the camera, you can't install apps," he said of the security-first approach. It's not for the mainstream consumer, but the company expects to sell 150,000 GranitePhones this year and more than twice that in 2016.

A couple of years ago, secure phones were an exotic market for the tinfoil-hat crowd. But that's changed dramatically with Edward Snowden's revelations about US and UK spy agency surveillance and with major hacks like the one that exposed Sony's inner workings and employee data. Secure phones may not be mainstream, but businesses are interested, and encryption is spreading.

Sikur COO Leandro Coletti
Sikur COO Leandro Coletti Stephen Shankland/CNET

So perhaps it's no surprise that secure phones are a theme at this year's Mobile World Congress.

In addition to the GranitePhone, Silent Circle unveiled its Blackphone 2, a successor to the secure phone it introduced in 2014. Jolla, which is trying to commercialize the MeeGo smartphone operating system that Nokia dropped, announced a partnership with SSH Communications Security to offer a locked-down mobile operating system, Sailfish Secure.

And Kaymera also touted its secure-phone technology, software that uses a custom version of Android and that runs on high-end mainstream phones like Google's Nexus products. The software encrypts data stored on the phone, data transmitted to and from the phone, and thwarts attacks, the company said.

Sikur was founded a year and a half before Snowden's leaked documents said the US National Security Agency eavesdropped on the calls of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

That gave Sikur and its 300-person parent company Ciberbras, both based in Sao Paolo, a business boost, Coletti said, as Brazilian companies looked for new options.

"They tried to start looking for new alternative solutions rather than American solutions," he said. "For us it was good."

Sikur's secure GranitePhone plan (pictures)

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The GranitePhone will be offered in Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, the United States, and Middle Eastern countries including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Sikur showed its GranitePhone operating system, a fork of Google's Android OS, running on Google Nexus 5 phones. The company hasn't yet announced its GranitePhone manufacturing partner though, said Fred Davila, Sikur's strategic alliance director. Building its own hardware lets Sikur take stronger measures to control the software on the phone, Coletti added.

The phone works on regular phone networks without any extra security, but Sikur software users can also make what Coletti calls "crypto calls" if they're talking to each other. Each member of the call is authenticated with a public-key encryption technology using Sikur servers, and when both parties are confirmed to be Sikur users, a channel between them is opened, the company said.

The GranitePhone will use a Snapdragon processor, have at least 2GB of memory and a screen measuring about 5 inches diagonally, Davila said. Although it doesn't have a Web browser today, Sikur is working on one, he added. And some kind of app store for Sikur-approved software also is the works, Coletti said.