Making The “SpookPhone”

So I've had lots of privacy scares in the past, with people trying to steal my identity, my banking info and so on. Over the past few years, I've grown fed up with this over time and have been looking for ways to hide my own personal information from theft, prevent telemarketing annoyance, and even gain the added benefit of making it just a little bit harder to be spied on by the government to preserve my own personal freedom.

Enter The PinePhone

What if I wanted a smartphone? I have been using a Google Pixel with a custom Android build for a while now, but I'm beginning to worry that's not enough. I've been hearing through my friends and online about this company called Pine64 that works on Open Source board designs for tech devices, such as smartphones, laptops, tablets and (recently) smartwatches.

So the Pine64 smartphone, or Pinephone, has pretty crappy hardware inside compared to a flagship smartphone. But given the $200 USD price point, I could buy three for the price of a “popular” phone. Also, it runs Linux as well as Android which means it supports the new and coming PureOS- a secured Linux build based on Debian. PureOS is actively made by the company Purism, who releases their own smartphone with this system. But can I run it on some cheap device?

Flashing PureOS

The Pinephone Comes with 16Gb eMMC storage and is extensible with an SD card. To flash PureOS, 2 things need to be downloaded: – JumpDrive– a tool for flashing the eMMC – The Latest PureOS Image for PinePhone

Now take a spare SD Card that's lying around and flash JumpDrive to it, using dd if on Linux, BSD or MacOS. If on Windows, use Win32DiskImager. When this is done, plug the Pinephone into the computer and plug the SD card into the phone. Booting up the phone will boot Jumpdrive, and allow you to flash the eMMC as if an SD card was plugged into the PC. This time, we are going to flash PureOS (again using dd or Win32DiskImager).

Once this completes, power the phone off and unplug the SD Card. Restarting the phone should boot you into PureOS. The default credentials are:

username: purism
pass: 123456


Naturally, that password STINKS. So change the password to something more secure before doing anything else. To do this, fire up the terminal and type passwd. You will be asked to type your password and there will be no characters to verify what you typed- instead it will confirm twice.

Now we can update the system by running sudo apt update && sudo apt full-upgrade && sudo apt dist-upgrade. It is also possible to install the application gparted (if not already installed) to resize PureOS to use the entire eMMC storage space. With this accomplished, all that's left is just to install some software and reformat the SD Card to provide additional storage.

Putting a SIM Card in will allow for Texts, Calling and SMS out of the box. For LTE to work, some small tweaking with modemmanager will allow access to cellular data- although this is often not recommended for privacy, as WiFi is abundant and LTE forces the user to be connected to the cell network constantly, even if the user happens to be in “airplane mode”.

Why Go To All This Effort?

Many might consider a cheap, secure and disposable smartphone a silly idea. But given the appeal of being able to run anything you please on the device, having documentation on how it works, and even being able to upgrade all aspects of it sounds rather appealing.

Without privacy in mind, the phone is a bit trashy- but the low price point makes it affordable and disposable, and the ability to install what you want gives you control.

With privacy in mind, total control of your device spells out absolute freedom. Install what system you like, remove what software you like, upgrade the hardware if you prefer, or just use the device as a display. It's all up to you, and no one is there to stand in your way or snoop in on you.

About PureOS

PureOS is effectively a heavily modified Debian Linux, with extreme security fixes applied, a custom environment tailored specifically to smartphones that is actually GNOME 3 but also modified, and it's on-screen keyboard software and other odds and ends leave it feeling like a full-fledged smartphone system.

Because PureOS is effectively Debian, this means it is possible to connect full-fledged keyboards and monitors to the phone and use it as a makeshift desktop, use it as a portable development environment, and actually do more than just what a smartphone is capable of.

Normally, PureOS only ships on the Purism Librem smartphone line, which is a bit expensive for regular consumers- so having the ability to use it on devices that are less expensive is awesome for people on a budget, or those who like to tinker.

Until Next time!

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