Feature

The Finney phone that keeps hackers away

The Finney phone, which is also aimed at making the use of cryptocurrency more secure, will be sold at the Courts outlet in Funan from next month.
The Finney phone, which is also aimed at making the use of cryptocurrency more secure, will be sold at the Courts outlet in Funan from next month. PHOTO: SIRIN LABS

The Finney phone from Swiss technology company Sirin Labs can stop breaches before they happen, without the need for third-party apps

That mobile phone you whip out to make banking transactions when tapping a public Wi-Fi signal may also be a way in for hackers up to mischief.

Concerns over cyber attacks have prompted technology companies to look at solutions, from simple mobile applications to the use of VPN to encrypt data. But these solutions require users to download apps, which can slow down the functions of the phone.

Swiss technology company Sirin Labs has instead come up with a mobile phone that can stop breaches before they happen, without the need for third-party apps.

The Finney phone, which is also aimed at making the use of cryptocurrency more secure, will be sold at the Courts outlet in Funan from next month.

It is priced at $1,899.

In a demonstration for The Straits Times, Sirin Labs showed how Finney's systems were able to detect stealthy third parties that attempted to intercept a phone's connection via a Wi-Fi network.

Once detected, the phone can automatically cut the connection to the Wi-Fi signal, stopping a hacker from breaching the phone.

Hackers use this form of attack, known in the technology world as a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack, to steal personal information, login credentials, account details, credit card numbers and other kinds of data.

Said a spokesman for Sirin Labs: "Anyone who has set his device to automatically connect to a known Wi-Fi network, like many of us do, could have the device connect to a malicious network at any point in time without his knowledge.

"In doing so, the entity operating the malicious network is able to collect the information keyed in on the websites that the person visits through the network."

The phone uses a machine-learning system called Intrusion Prevention System (IPS), which the spokesman said the company has built through "years of collected cyber security data which helps it detect and identify such problematic networks quickly".

According to PwC's Global Consumer Insights Survey 2019, mobile payments have experienced high growth in South-east Asia in the past year, with use of mobile payments in Singapore climbing to 46 per cent from 34 per cent of consumers surveyed last year.

Mr K.K. Lim, head of cyber security, privacy and data protection at law firm Eversheds Harry Elias, warned that mobile phones are prime targets in MITM attacks, which hackers can also use to spy on users and insert false information in their phones.

"The demand for wireless access creates a huge opportunity to intercept and/or steal our important data, such as passwords, between two points. This is also compounded by our 'always on' search feature on most mobile phones for wireless access," said Mr Lim.

The Finney phone is also able to prevent malicious apps, or malware, from being installed.

Some of these apps, which Mr Lim pointed out, are mostly designed to steal important information belonging to users. They also disguise themselves as legitimate apps on the Google Play Store to trick users into downloading them.

Last month, a report by Russian cyber security firm Doctor Web noted that a new malware has been found in 34 apps that have been downloaded more than a 100 million times by Android users.

This malware was built into "ordinary" but popular apps in categories such as dictionaries, barcode scanners, audio players and online maps.

Sirin Labs said that through the IPS, its phone conducts an analysis of the apps downloaded to detect malware before installation.

"Once detected, the IPS deploys the countermeasure by pausing the installation and notifying the user of the malicious software," said the spokesman.

Finney also allows for faster and safer use of cryptocurrency.

It features its own cryptocurrency platform to allow users to make transactions easily and has a hardware-based wallet that is physically separate from the phone itself.

Most cryptocurrency owners keep their currency in a software-based wallet, which stores the passwords they need when spending their coins.

Some consider this unsafe, as such wallets are constantly connected to the Internet and therefore are exposed to hackers.

The phone's hardware-based wallet goes online - by sliding it up from the back of the phone - only when its user wishes to send or receive cryptocurrency.

Co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Sirin Labs Moshe Hogeg said the phone is also aimed at making cryptocurrency more accessible to Singaporeans.

"With Finney, we address the two greatest barriers to adoption - lack of security and poor user experience - by delivering a product that gives consumers the confidence that their data is safe in the digital world, and a user-friendly interface that is fitting for both new and existing crypto enthusiasts," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2019, with the headline 'A phone that keeps hackers away'. Print Edition | Subscribe