Tripleton Enigma E2 encrypted smartphone

Tripleton Enigma E2 encrypted smartphone

Summary: This tri-band GSM phone has fairly ordinary everyday specifications, but it has one extraordinary capability: it supports secure encrypted phone calls. The Enigma E2 is expensive — but if security is paramount, it does the job.

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If you're worried about communications security, then a phone that can deliver certified end-to-end encryption should be of interest. The Tripleton Enigma 2 offers a level of protection that's astonishingly strong: 1,024-bit RSA asymmetric encryption with 256-bit AES symmetric encryption and two-way user authentication create a complete audio barrier between encrypted and non-encrypted speech. It's the stuff of spy movies.

enigma-phone
The Enigma E2 is an £1,100 (ex. VAT) candybar-style tri-band GSM handset with a 2.4in. non-touch screen and no Wi-Fi. It can make secure calls to other E2 phones though.

This is a second-generation handset that looks a lot sharper than its predecessor. It's still a retro design though, resembling an old Sony Ericsson candybar-style handset. The E2 is made from a chunky plastic, has a usable (if smallish) keypad, and a little D-pad. The build materials are quite tough and in everyday use the phone could pass for a pretty standard — if somewhat old-fashioned — handset.

The E2 has some features that extend its utility beyond simply making calls. There is a 3-megapixel camera, mobile email support and the ability to play Java games. You can play MPEG4 video, and there's a music player and an FM radio. The music player was unable to automatically pick up MP3s from a microSD card, but when we used the built-in file manager to locate tunes on a card they played perfectly well. Bluetooth is supported, but there's no Wi-Fi.

There's also a calendar, a task manager, an alarm clock, a note-taker, a calculator, a unit converter, a currency converter and a stopwatch. Oh, and a WAP-based web browser. Using this handset for everyday tasks feels like being jolted back several years into the past.

Tripleton does not specify the amount of internal storage on the E2, but the specs do say that microSD cards up to 8GB are supported. We threw a 32GB card into the side-mounted slot and the handset coped perfectly. You get a 2GB card with the phone.

The screen is small at 2.4in. with a resolution of 240 by 320 pixels — and of course it's not touch sensitive. Connectivity is limited to tri-band GSM (900MHz, 1800MHz, 1900MHz).

But by modern standards there are clearly issues. But it's the encryption that's the key feature, and it's easy to use. You can make encrypted or unencrypted calls — just choose either the Call button or the 'key symbol' button on the number pad to initiate the required type. Encrypted calls proceed without you needing to enter passcodes or do anything at all complicated: calls take a little longer than usual to initiate due to the encryption setup, but it's only a few seconds.

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To make an encrypted call you simply hit the 'key' button rather than the regular Call button.

On-screen graphics indicating a call has been initiated differ between the two types of call, and are rather cartoon-like for a phone with such pretensions. Do spies and high-powered types like that kind of thing or would they prefer something more discreet? The battery is strangely low grade, too: the 950mAh cell is rated for just 5 hours of talk.

You can only make encrypted calls to another Tripleton Enigma E2 — the handsets use a second SIM (that sits above your standard SIM under the backplate) to manage the encrypted calls. So you'll need at least two devices to make and receive secure calls — and as your circle is likely to be larger than two people, you'll probably need more than that. The E2's price of £1,320 (inc. VAT; £1,100 ex. VAT) will limit it to those who really need secure communications.

The Enigma E2's build quality and basic functionality could, arguably, be improved — and perhaps at this price they should be. That said, it's very easy to make encrypted calls, and the fact that this handset is on its second generation is evidence that there's a market for it.

Topics: Security, Reviews, Smartphones

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6 comments
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  • Insane

    An insane amount of money for something that can be achieved using software, SecureStar sells software to make encrypted calls and there are many others.
    malcarada
    • It's a burn phone

      Drug dealers are often not the sharpest pencils in the drawer. Plus, what seems like an "insane" amount of money to you or me is chump change to them. They probably view these as disposable.
      Robert Hahn
      • IT'S A HONEYPOT

        You can be sure that the NSA already has the private key :)
        I would, in their position.
        Steve__Jobs
  • 1024 bit rsa?

    thats kind of low ball. i wonder if you can update the encryption standard in the future? take the talk time and cut it in half if you want to make encrypted calls, i'm sure thats a battery drainer. i wonder if its FIPS compliant? lol...
    archangel127
  • AES-256??

    Didn't they get the memo about weaknesses found in AES-256? They should have stuck to AES-128.
    ldo17
  • Can't see it being a huge success

    Without having any control over the encryption or oversight into how it works, you'd surely have to assume that it was compromised in some way such that conversations can be monitored by law enforcement, spy agencies and other well-funded groups who care little for individual freedom.

    This is exactly the kind of thing I'd want to manage in software, rather than trusting a black-box hardware device to do it properly.
    exolon