Darkmatter: a secure Paranoid Android version that hides from attackers


Stock Android phones with the Darkmatter OS use encrypted storage, OS-level app controls, and secure messaging by default, but if the phone thinks it's under attack, it dismounts all the encrypted stuff and reboots as a stock Android phone with no obvious hints that its owner has anything hidden on it.

It's still in beta, unveiled today at the Hack the Box conference in Kuala Lumpur.

The Blackphone has a problem. The mere fact of holding one in your hand advertises to the world that you're using a Blackphone. That might not be a big problem for people who can safely be assumed to have access to sensitive information—politicians, security contractors, say—but if you're a journalist investigating your own corrupt government or a dissident fearful of arrest, the Blackphone is a really bad idea. Using such a phone is advertising that you have sensitive material that you're trying to keep secret, and is an invitation to break out the rubber hoses.

That's what led a team of security researchers to develop DarkMatter, unveiled today at the Hack In The Box security conference in Kuala Lumpur. DarkMatter is a secure Android fork, but unlike Blackphone and its custom hardware, DarkMatter is a secure Android that runs on regular Android phones (including the Galaxy S4 and Nexus 5) and which, at first glance, looks just like it's stock Android. The special sauce of DarkMatter is secure encrypted storage that selected apps can transparently access. If the firmware believes it's under attack, the secure storage will be silently dismounted, and the phone will appear, to all intents and purposes, to be a regular non-secure device.

The secure smartphone that won’t get you beaten with rubber hoses [Peter Bright/Ars Technica]