Is the Blackphone Really Easy to Root?

Blackphone 2

Recently we read about the Blackphone, a super secure smartphone designed by SGP Technologies, a joint venture between Silent Circle and Spanish Geekphone, which is able to avoid surveillance of the NSA. The designer of Blackphone defined it as the “world’s first Smartphone which places privacy and control directly in the hands of its users,”.

Security expert Jon Sawyer (@TeamAndIRC), CTO of Applied Cybersecurity, at the recent DEFCON hacker conference demonstrated that Blackphone is vulnerable, they have rooted the super smartphone in just 5 minutes.  The security researcher took 5 minutes to root the device without unlocking the device’s bootloader.

The principal problem is that the researcher testing a phone with old firmware and  the designers of Blackphone have already patched one of the vulnerabilities and pushed out an update.

Blackphone 1

Blackphone is based on a customized version of Android dubbed PrivatOS which comes with pre-installed privacy-enabled applications. The Blackphone was criticized by some security experts which consider the mobile phone only a container of privacy tools, that still runs on insecure Android OS.

BlackBerry dubbed the devices of its competitor as “Consumer-Grade Privacy That’s Inadequate for Businesses.





@TeamAndIRC described three ways to hack the Blackphone:

  • USB debugging/dev menu removed, open via targeted intent
  • remote wipe app runs as system, and is debuggable, attach debugger get free system shell
  • system user to root, many available



blackphone hacked 11082014

Later the researcher noticed later that the first of the above hacks was conducted on an unpatched version of Android, meanwhile the second attack required user interaction. As already mentioned, one of the flaws has been already patched and the other is only exploitable with direct user consent, for this reason there is no imminent danger to Blackphone users.

Regarding the third issue, Sawyer said that he will privately disclose it to SGP Technologies Team, and he remarked that “it is hard to reach and trigger, requiring priv (privilege) escalation to even attempt” and is of “little value.” And a bad actor needs to have physical access to the Blackphone.

Dan Ford, chief security officer at SGP Technologies, explained that the debugging attack is not a vulnerability as the Android Debugging Bridge is a part of Android itself. However since this could be used to access the phone it is correctly considered a vulnerability.

We turned ADB off because it causes a software bug and potentially impacts the user experience, a patch is forthcoming,” “I would like to thank him for not blowing the issue out of proportion and going back to the twittersphere for a little more transparency by explaining that direct user interaction is required and that we had already patched one of the vulnerabilities through the OTA update.” Ford says in a blog post.

It’s my opinion that  perfect software doesn’t exist, bugs are everywhere, let’s consider the recently exposed flaw in Tor and in Tails like distribution. I have appreciated how Blackphone team managed the news and promptly identified and fixed issues quickly.