Tech Transformers

Don't want to be spied on? You need these phones


Smartphone makers are launching a slew of privacy-centric devices in a bid to take advantage of users' concerns about being spied on by governments.

Last year saw some of the largest cyberattacks in history, from Sony Pictures Entertainment to U.S. investment bank JP Morgan. At the same time, the public and businesses are scared that governments are spying on them, following revelations by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden about the U.S.'s surveillance activities.

One company riding this wave of fear is Lockphone, a Hong Kong-based company that showed off its 5.5-inch smartphone at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The smartphone, called Lockphone, uses Google's Android operating system, but both text and email communication benefit from strong encryption, four times the strength of that available on Apple's iPhone 6. The encryption only works between two Lockphones however.

Arjun Kharpal | CNBC

"If you send one email from Lockphone to Lockphone it will be communication between the two phones only, so there will be no access for someone who wants to check," Kimy Bohorquez, Lockphone's manager for Latin America, told CNBC in Barcelona.

The phone will price at between $450 and $500 when it is released in March.

US corporate concerns

U.S. companies have expressed concern over their government's surveillance program and last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke to U.S. President Barack Obama regarding his concerns over the NSA's conduct. Corporates are also concerned about the risk of cyberattacks from hostile foreign governments, following the hacking of Sony.

In this environment, Leandro Coletti, chief operating officer for Brazilian security company Sikur, said that businesses were approaching him for secure devices for their employees.

"We are seeing that in some markets, especially governments and any other international companies are looking for alternatives," Colettis told CNBC in Barcelona.

On Monday, Sikur unveiled the GranitePhone, a heavily encrypted smartphone. If the device is lost or stolen, users can remotely log onto the Sikur cloud and destroy all information on the handset.

On top of this, the device has a virtual "container" that keeps all privacy apps sealed from other apps such as Facebook or Twitter, in order to prevent data leakage.

'Privacy-first' tablet


Blackphone, which was one of the early movers in the privacy space, unveiled a "privacy-first" tablet in Barcelona on Monday, along with its latest smartphone, the Blackphone 2. Like other devices, these are aimed at businesses, and have features to keep personal and business apps separate.

In addition, Silent Circle, the encrypted communications company behind the devices, launched a host of enterprise apps designed to keep information secure.

In the wake of the Sony attack, the head of Silent Circle said that an increasing number of businesses would ditch their current devices and buy privacy-focused handsets instead.

"Once a government has compromised the network, you need a place that you can absolutely go to that is for secure communications," Bill Conner, president and CEO of Silent Circle, told CNBC by phone. "We think this is the next wave of what will be required as traditional security fails us."