What is Samsung Knox and what does it mean to have it in your Samsung device?

Admit it, security and privacy are not the first things that come to mind when we’re shopping for a smartphone. It’s all about the specs, right…? Bigger screens, higher definition, more RAM, better camera, faster processor.

Yes, it’s good to have the latest and best spec in your shiny new phone but consider this, our phones store so much of our private and personal data and yet security and privacy is seldom, if ever, a selling point. Why is that?

Today, our phones (and its related services) store more personal and private information about ourselves than ever before. Photos, banking details, private and confidential business information, passwords, emails, our search and browsing history, all of that and more in the palm of our hand. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that my phone knows more about me than my wife!

Our smartphones are our most intimate devices, yet we treat them like an open book. Why are we so lackadaisical when it comes to the security of our devices? I would chalk this all up to ignorance.

It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security when you’ve already set up a password to lock your phone from prying eyes but in a time when looking into your most private data doesn’t necessarily require physically looking at your phone, you really need to ask yourself, how much do you trust your smartphone with your personal data?

Threats based on carelessness and trends

According to McAfee’s Mobile Threat Report Q1 2019, cybercriminals are now finding ways to bypass the Google Play store with a new malware known as “TimpDoor”.

This new threat communicates directly with the users via SMS and tells them to download an app outside of Google’s official store. The link will then lead them to a voice-player app that even teaches the user how to enable installing from an unknown source. Once the app is installed and the app is closed, the shortcut to the app is then hidden but the app continues to run in the background and redirects all network traffic through an encrypted third-party server.

Another tactic that criminals rely on is trend and popularity. Targeting the apps or games that is currently the most talked-about amongst users.

2018 was the year Fortnite was launched for mobile devices and it saw sixty-million downloads. It was a global phenomenon and because it started as an invitation-only beta, many users were willing to go through other means to download the game.

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This is when cybercriminals struck by creating a fake version of the Fortnite app. They first used YouTube ads to inform gamers where to download the app and since the game wasn’t officially on Google Play, users didn’t think twice about installing apps from an unknown source and giving admin access.

Once the game was installed and launched, it looked the same as the original with the same images, music and loading screen.

However, after being prompted to log in, users will be asked for mobile verification and directed to another link with instructions on how to unlock the phone. However, this would then lead gamers to another install screen on Google Play and confused users would just keep trying again thus driving up the number of downloads and generating revenue for the criminals.

Cybercriminals understand these behaviours well and they are now creating new malware that relies on our own carelessness in hopes of gaining access to our data.

Knox is a trusted government-grade security for your phone

So, to keep the data of their customers secure, Samsung introduced Knox in 2013. Named after the well-known impenetrable United States Bullion Depository, also known as Fort Knox, which stores over half of the United States’ official gold reserves.

Samsung’s Knox is built into the company’s smartphones, tablets and wearables and is a government-grade platform that protects devices against intrusion, malware and other threats. This gives Samsung users their very own impenetrable fort to store their most precious “gold” – so to speak.

Samsung is ahead of the curve when it comes to security and privacy for personal smart devices. In fact, Samsung devices with Knox are so secure that they are certified for official use in government agencies in the U.S., EU, and even China.

Knox provides multiple layers of security

While many see having a password is secure enough for their phones. Samsung devices with Knox are protected from vulnerabilities in multiple layers, from the application layer to the OS layer and all the way down to the hardware layer.

This is important because, on the app layer, software can be compromised. On the OS layer, more advanced users may attempt to install custom versions of Android that may also be compromised. And finally, we have the hardware layer where if someone really wants to get to your data, they may even attempt to alter the processor of your phone making it easier to hack into.

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With Knox, Samsung has created a trusted environment that protects these three layers. Knox makes frequent check across processes that happen in between these layers to constantly keep your data safe.

First, Knox checks the hardware to verify that it hasn’t been compromised. If it has, Knox will prevent your device from booting up. Then Knox checks the OS, to see that it has now been compromised. If it has, Knox will prevent your device from booting up. After booting up, Knox will then check the apps that you use. If those have been compromised, Knox will prevent the app from starting.

The Hardware Root of Trust which is implemented during the device’s manufacturing process. Devices are given an irretrievable and unique hardware key and one-time programmable fuses.

It’s then followed up by the Trusted Boot, which runs when a device is booted up. At this stage, the device will verify all bootloaders and Kernels. If the device is compromised, the Warranty Bit will be flipped.

During run-time, it’s all about Maintaining and Proving Trust. The third layer comes in the form of Real-time Kernel Protection where Knox prevents any unauthorised Kernel access or code modifications. Then you also get the Device Health Attestation function that continuously verifies the integrity of device security on demand.

In short, Knox compatible devices are able to block any attempts at tampering the moment the device is turned on and even when it is powered down. This means that your device will be protected from ransomware, malware and unauthorised rooting.

As for the software side of things, devices with Knox will encrypt any and all data by default using a government-certified encryption module. This ensures that in the event of theft or loss, the person with your device will not be able to access your data.  On top of that, you can further protect your data by storing it in a separate password-protected layer.

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Knox is built into Samsung devices

Knox is built-into virtually all current Samsung devices so there’s really not much that you need to do. Just look for the “Secured by Knox” logo the next time you boot up your Samsung device and you can be rest assured that all the data stored on your device is as secure as it can be with Knox.

From the ultra-premium Galaxy Fold all the way down to the entry-level Galaxy J series, almost all Samsung phones have Knox built-in. You can check the full list of Knox devices here.

For an additional layer of protection, Knox also provides a “Secure Folder” inside your Samsung device. Secure Folder enables you to safeguard your precious and private files, photos, videos, documents and even applications. Secure Folder then stores them in an encrypted space that can only be accessed after you have keyed in your password, pin or biometric verification.

It is a folder where you can store apps and other files that is locked independently with a different password from your device’s lock screen password. This is useful if you want to secure your work email and documents but still want to allow other people to use your phone like your kids for example.

Items stored in the Secure Folder can also be backed up to the cloud, which not only ensures that you won’t lose your precious data but migrating to a new device will also be simple.

Samsung Pay is also another feature that is protected by Knox as your card information is encrypted in a separate and secure data vault. What makes Samsung Pay even more secure is that instead of providing the card reader a card number, it produces a random token to prevent your card being cloned.

Another app that makes full use of Knox is Samsung Pass – a built-in password manager installed in current Samsung devices. Instead of having to constantly type in your password for apps or websites, you can just use your biometrics to log in quickly and securely. Your fingerprint, iris or face template is then encrypted by Knox and store deep instead its Trust Zone.

Having Samsung Knox means knowing that the data on your phone is truly secured

While some other phones may be comparable to a Samsung device, one critical element makes a Samsung inherently better, security.

As our phones become more and more inseparable from our daily lives, it is inevitable that we will be storing more and more data in it. In this inevitability one thing is certain, you can trust that your personal data will always be safe and secure with Samsung and Knox.

Amin Ashaari