Russian developers launch RoMOS, a more secure version of Android that does not phone home

September 3, 2012
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“Are you sure this phone doesn’t actually run Android, Miss Moneypenny?” (Promotional image, From Russia With Love, 1963 / MGM)

It has been more than two decades since the Cold War plagued both sides of the Atlantic. But with data becoming more and more mobile, spooks around the world are worried that sensitive information from their government officials might fall into the wrong hands. With Google having access to data and a kill switch for Android, the Russian government has developed its own variant of the OS, which developers say is more secure.

The first prototype of the Android-like OS, dubbed the Russian Mobile Operating System (RoMOS), was presented by researchers from the Central Scientific Research Institute in the sidelines of the IFA event in Berlin.

In a presentation to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, production unit directory Andrei Starikovsky has stressed that the mobile operating system will ensure data security and integrity. “The operating system has all the functional capabilities of an Android operating system but none of its hidden features that send users’ private data to Google headquarters,” Starikovsky said, stressing that developers “excluded the Google market from assembly for security reasons.”

Unlike the general-release Android variants, the slimmed-down RoMOS does not phone home, so to speak, and is not dependent on American technology. For instance, instead of using Global Positioning Satellites (GPS), the OS uses Russia’s own GLONASS or the Global Navigation Satellite System. This way, even if the U.S. government shuts down GPS as a precaution against hostile attacks, the Russian-developed OS will still be able to support location-based services and systems.

In contrast, Google has been criticized for Android’s user tracking and privacy issues.

The OS was developed not necessarily out of fear of cyber attacks, though. It’s more of a precautionary measure against inadvertent leaks. “They are not afraid of Google or the US government stealing things per se. They are afraid of leaks in general,” says project manager Dmitri Mikhailov.

The system does not come without a price, though. A tablet that runs RoMOS will be available by end-2012 for a price of 15,000 rubles, or about $460. The target clients  include mostly the military and other government clients that can afford expensive hardware. However, the consumer and government-grade versions will have a difference in features and price. For one, the device planned for the military will be worthy of any Russian intelligence officer or spy. “The military version will be shock- and water-proof,” says Starikovsky.

We wonder, though, how long it would take for Russian hackers — or other countries’ intelligence services — to break into the system.

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