Pyra baseband modem sandbox vs. GTA04 and Neo900

Discussion in 'Ask EvilDragon Questions' started by Haraldur, Mar 12, 2015.

  1. Haraldur

    Haraldur Very Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 12, 2015
    Messages:
    279
    Hello, prospective Pyra purchaser here.
     
    I find the Pyra attractive as a Real Computer that fits into the pocket, replacing, among other things, my phone. I have (/have had) several phones with (I expect) woeful security/freedom, so a negative answer to this question likely would not change my intentions much, but, still, I would like to see how close the Pyra shall be to a panacea.
     
    Given that a mobile phone's baseband processor (/modem) appears, typically, to have direct access to the microphone and to main memory, it is the source of many tin-foil-hat nightmares. It would be nice to have a device, like the Pyra, that could stymie any malicious actions through the modem, perhaps by denying such direct access to the rest of the larger device.
     
    It appears that the Pyra's PCBs are being designed by Nikolaus Schaller, who appears also responsible for the PCBs of the GTA04 and the Neo900. Does that mean that the Pyra shall have security features comparable to those of the GTA04 and the Neo900?
     

    no online accounts and registration required
    offline gps navigation and dictionaries
    all applications are free and open source
    fast processor and big RAM is not needed - we have fast non bloated software
    long term support - freerunner is after 4 years still actively supported phone
    gta04 kernel is exceptionally good - most of drivers are in mainline kernel and gta04 kernels are updated with every linux release
    separation between modem processor and application processor keeps your application software in control of what the modem is doing (or not doing)
    ... and a friendly community allowing for direct discussions with the core developers
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 12, 2015
    Tags:
  2. levi

    levi Still fresh, damnit!

    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2008
    Messages:
    11,216
    Location:
    Somewhere off the coast of the EU
    The modem processor will communicate to the application processor (main CPU) via tty devices I believe, so there is that separation of processors.

    Most of the rest of the stuff is software stuff which hasn't been implemented yet.  Some of it is user decisions, and with the Pyra being a proper computer is left to the user to decide upon.  It's worth settling on what sort of security features people want now though, judging by the rate of development the hardware's going through at present though.  Probably the Neo900 features are a good place to start, and to consider what of that we need.

    Edit: Oops, didn't notice this was in Ask ED Questions.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 13, 2015
  3. WizardStan

    WizardStan Mega GP Mania

    Joined:
    May 24, 2008
    Messages:
    16,711
    Hi, I'm neither EvilDragon nor Nikolaus but I can answer this for you.

    The modem being used is an entirely separate chip from the processor. It is the PHS8 (or PLS8, or PVS8, they're still working on the details of which carriers they'll support) by Gemalto: http://m2m.gemalto.com/products/industrial-plus/lga/phs8.htmlwhich is, indeed, the same line as for the GTA04 as far as I know.

    It has no direct access to the speaker, microphone, or memory, everything has to be controlled directly in software by the CPU. All the rest basically flows from that, including knowing whether the modem or GPS are in use when they shouldn't be. If you can trust the operating system and phone software you can trust the modem. If you can't trust the operating system or phone software, write your own that you can trust.

    I mean, as far as you can trust anything really. If you're actively on a call there's no telling what's happening with your voice data, the CPU reroutes the microphone to the modem and then off it goes into the network and who knows who is listening in between, but it won't be the Pyra. And while it's connected, the modem is broadcasting your approximate location, it's a necessary feature of cell technology that the towers know where you are. But if you tell the CPU to turn the modem off, it is off. If you don't want the modem to be listening in on everything while it's just idly waiting for a call it can't. There was even talk about a hardware switch that could physically be flipped to guarantee all power to the modem was cut, but I don't know whether that made it into the final design or not.
     
  4. FIQ

    FIQ Member

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2014
    Messages:
    96
  5. WizardStan

    WizardStan Mega GP Mania

    Joined:
    May 24, 2008
    Messages:
    16,711
    Aye, he's not wrong, the Pyra isn't the NEO900, but he's not entirely right either, there are many ways it can be useful. Yeah, using it as a dedicated phone he brings up some good points, but sounds like he's completely missing the point, may even be feeling a little threatened and trying to justify himself. He shouldn't be, they serve two different niche markets: the NEO900 is for people that want a phone with a computer like operating system, and the Pyra is for people that want a computer with (optional) telephone features: overlapping, complimenting, not competing. Doesn't matter whether it will make as good of a dedicated phone as the NEO900, that's not the point, and it's kind of sad that he's trying to make it out to be. Very strawman.

    I don't know what "special hardware" he has that makes sure the modem and GPS aren't active, but the Pyra has full access to power consumption: if the modem or GPS become active when they shouldn't be, it'll be obvious. Saying that the Pyra doesn't have the "unique security features" is technically correct in that it has a different set of features that accomplishes basically the same thing.

    Seriously, if he wants to argue about it he should just post here, actually explain things. Like here:

    totally out of context. It should be pretty obvious that I didn't mean "la la, modem is a good guy and there's no need to be vigilant". Like I said above, the modem has no access to the CPU's RAM, no access to the microphone, no access to the speakers, no access to anything the operating system doesn't give it. The absolute worst it can do is turn itself on and start broadcasting your location which, as explained, the Pyra will know about by the power spike, assuming that you trust the operating system not to lie about power consumption. I stand by what I said, if you can trust the operating system and the phone software then you can trust the modem, at least as far as you can trust anything, including as far as you can trust it on the NEO900: it is sitting in its own little sandbox being given only exactly what it needs, it can't come into your system and start reading passwords and whatnot unless your OS has been massively compromised, and that holds true even on the NEO900: if the OS starts streaming your browser history to a remote server that's all in the software and all the hardware in the world isn't going to be able to tell the difference between maliciously sending your browser history vs a legitimate backup request.
     
  6. EvilDragon

    EvilDragon Administrator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2003
    Messages:
    19,786
    Location:
    Ingolstadt
    Some additions from me:

    Obviously, with the two RGB LEDs that drive the Pyra Logo on the lid...

    Hands-free using the microphone and speakers.

    Or with a bluetooth headset.

    Or with a normal cable headset.

    Or holding the right speaker to your left ear, as then the microphone will be at your mouth.

    Yes, it'll look weird and might not be the most comfortable way, but in my opinion it's at least better than the Nokia NGage with sidetalking.

    The Pyra will not be a phone replacement. But it can be used as a phone, if need be.

    That said, I know people who ALWAYS use bluetooth headsets, so for them, it's no different.

    About security:

    As WizardStan said, the Modem simply sends and receives data via the OS, it can't read out the storage or memory on it's own.

    So the OS would need to be compromised if the modem wanted to send out data you wouldn't want.

    If the OS is compromised... the sandbox might be as well and you would have the same issues using Wifi.

    The only thing it COULD transfer would be GPS data, as that's in the same device. No idea how useful that would be, as you can also locate a mobile data device depending on the hot spots it's logged it.

    And the Pyra can monitor and cut the power usage of the modem, so it can't magically switch itself on and send stuff without you knowing.
     
  7. rohezal

    rohezal Advanced Member

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2009
    Messages:
    1,662
    Isn't there a LED which indicates if the modem is working? Is it for the power line of the modem or the data line between the modem and the cpu?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 14, 2015
  8. EvilDragon

    EvilDragon Administrator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2003
    Messages:
    19,786
    Location:
    Ingolstadt
    You've got two RGB LEDs on the Mainboard which you can configure to show anything.
     
  9. WizardStan

    WizardStan Mega GP Mania

    Joined:
    May 24, 2008
    Messages:
    16,711
    rohezal is referring to part two about the hardwired power detection module and LED.
     
  10. rohezal

    rohezal Advanced Member

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2009
    Messages:
    1,662
    Yep, I asked for a hardkill kill switch for the modem, but it was said, this would be to complicated to install. But there will be a LED which will indicate if the modem is working. Looks like it shows if the modem is consuming power and since it is hard wired, it can't trick it. Looks good :) .
     
  11. levi

    levi Still fresh, damnit!

    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2008
    Messages:
    11,216
    Location:
    Somewhere off the coast of the EU
    The CPU can disconnect the modem so that it can't receive any power?  I didn't know that, and that's pretty neat (even if I doubt I'll be using the feature myself).
     
  12. Haraldur

    Haraldur Very Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 12, 2015
    Messages:
    279
    Thanks for the answers, everyone.
     
    I suppose, though I do not know the specifics of the Neo900's hardware features, that the Pyra shall suffice for me. I generally assume that I am not of particular interest, so I can get significant benefits from simply being more secure than the majority of people (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Bear+Principle). Besides, if the powerful were really after me, I suspect that I would have great difficulty unless I took the hardcore emulate-Snowden approach.
     
    As long as I can be reasonably confident that the modem is off/incapable, separate from the rest of the device, and can only give away my position when on (no access to my data), I expect that I shall be happy. Approach: when the modem is on, behave as if 'in public' -- for privacy, switch off, etc..
     
    As for the ergonomic problem of using the Pyra as a phone: I am sure some reasonable compromise shall be possible. Besides, voice calls on phones seem to be rather infrequent anyway, these days -- a minor inconvenience. For (much more frequent) SMS, I expect that the Pyra shall be better than a touchscreen-slab or even the N(eo)900. I am not that interested in phones, I have one only because I need (/am expected to have) one: my N900 is mainly used as an audio-player. With pay-as-you-go, I have had a disincentive to use GPS (well, the maps downloaded to make it useful) or the web with a phone.

    The only thing the Pyra seems to miss is a camera, but that is even more of an infrequent use for me, so I am sure I can live without (or use a small USB-job).

    Current pocket contents: keys, wallet, N900.
    >Future pocket contents: keys, wallet, Pyra. Nothing else.
     
    Advertising: I think it may be of benefit to emphasise (on the feature list) how the Pyra would be more secure as a phone than is typical, despite worse ergonomics. I expect that there would be a worthwhile number of people for whom it would be an important consideration. Perhaps it (or the Neo900) would even be suitable for Richard Stallman (https://stallman.org/rms-lifestyle.html)? I am pretty sure I saw a photo of him, once, with a laptop strapped to his body so he could use it while standing outside. The Pyra may be more suitable.
     

Share This Page

Loading...