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Theme fund: NGI0 PET
Start: 2019-06
End: 2022-09
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MEGA65 Phone

A phone simple enough to understand in full

Much of the insecurity and lack of privacy is the simple result of how complex computers, the internet and all of the protocols and technologies that they include. It seems that the majority of proposals to fix this solution consist of adding something to this complicated mess. While this has helped to reduce the symptoms of the problem, by adding complexity it has actually made the problem worse. There are simply too many places for insecurities and privacy violating software to hide in modern complex systems. Even the hardware itself is not immune, with problems like SPECTRE, MELTDOWN and vulnerabilities in the management processors of modern computers and phones showing that even the processors we use today carry significant risks due to their complexity. This project takes a contrarian approach of seeing just how simple a system can be make, that would still be useful for a core set of functionality. The project takes inspiration from the simple and effective computers of the 1980s: it explores how to retain their simplicity and transparency, and combine them with modern improvements in security and capability. The goal is to allow even a single determined person to completely verify that a device has not been compromised, and that there are no unwanted listening ears when performing privacy sensitive tasks. The project will advance its current proof-of-concept to a functioning hardware and software system that can demonstrate profoundly improved security and privacy, and in a way that allows a determined user to verify that the device is still truly under their exclusive control and serving them alone.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

Do you completely understand how your computer, laptop or smartphone works? Do you know what happens behind the browser, the text editor, the operating system? Probably not, and that is not a surprise nor is it something to be ashamed of. The development of consumer electronics is like a web that becomes increasingly intricate, where new technologies added continuously without anyone checking how the wires are connected or if there is a risk for short-circuiting. All sorts of vulnerabilities and back doors have crept in software and hardware over the years that even the developers themselves are sometimes unaware of.

Users can either rely technology companies reassuring them that another patch or fix will make everything okay, or be able to switch to a device they know they can trust and that can be thoroughly and transparently verified for security and privacy. To have that option, Mega65 goes back to the early days of personal computing and has developed a completely open-source 8-bit computer that users can modify as they see fit, with full transparency. Now the project aims to develop a portable version of this computer as a smartphone that follows the same approach: technology can only be truly secure if it is and stays simple. The smartphone is open-source (which is quite hard in fact), connects to the internet like any other smartphone and instead of needing a lifeline everyday, has a battery life of some 1000 hours in standby. Users can now have a phone they can truly trust to protect their privacy and be transparently, completely secure.

Run by Moulds Team AG

Logo NLnet: abstract logo of four people seen from above Logo NGI Zero: letterlogo shaped like a tag

This project was funded through the NGI0 PET Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825310.