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Android

These are the Android operating systems, devices, and apps we recommend to maximize your mobile device's security and privacy. We also have additional Android-related information:

AOSP Derivatives

We recommend installing one of these custom Android operating systems on your device, listed in order of preference, depending on your device's compatibility with these operating systems.

Note

End-of-life devices (such as GrapheneOS or CalyxOS's "extended support" devices) do not have full security patches (firmware updates) due to the OEM discontinuing support. These devices cannot be considered completely secure regardless of installed software.

GrapheneOS

Recommendation

GrapheneOS logo GrapheneOS logo

GrapheneOS is the best choice when it comes to privacy and security.

GrapheneOS provides additional security hardening and privacy improvements. It has a hardened memory allocator, network and sensor permissions, and various other security features. GrapheneOS also comes with full firmware updates and signed builds, so verified boot is fully supported.

Homepage

GrapheneOS supports Sandboxed Google Play, which runs Google Play Services fully sandboxed like any other regular app. This means you can take advantage of most Google Play Services, such as push notifications, while giving you full control over their permissions and access, and while containing them to a specific work profile or user profile of your choice.

Google Pixel phones are the only devices that currently meet GrapheneOS's hardware security requirements.

DivestOS

Recommendation

DivestOS logo

DivestOS is a soft-fork of LineageOS. DivestOS inherits many supported devices from LineageOS. It has signed builds, making it possible to have verified boot on some non-Pixel devices.

Homepage tor

DivestOS has automated kernel vulnerability (CVE) patching, fewer proprietary blobs, a custom hosts file, and F-Droid as the app store. Its hardened WebView, Mulch, enables CFI for all architectures and network state partitioning, and receives out-of-band updates.

DivestOS also includes kernel patches from GrapheneOS and enables all available kernel security features via defconfig hardening. All kernels newer than version 3.4 include full page sanitization and all ~22 Clang-compiled kernels have -ftrivial-auto-var-init=zero enabled.

DivestOS implements some system hardening patches originally developed for GrapheneOS. DivestOS 16.0 and higher implements GrapheneOS's INTERNET and SENSORS permission toggle, hardened memory allocator, exec-spawning, JNI constification, and partial bionic hardening patchsets. 17.1 and higher features GrapheneOS's per-network full MAC randomization option, ptrace_scope control, and automatic reboot/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth timeout options.

Warning

DivestOS firmware update status and quality control varies across the devices it supports. We still recommend GrapheneOS depending on your device's compatibility. For other devices, DivestOS is a good alternative.

Not all of the supported devices have verified boot, and some perform it better than others.

Android Devices

When purchasing a device, we recommend getting one as new as possible. The software and firmware of mobile devices are only supported for a limited time, so buying new extends that lifespan as much as possible.

Avoid buying phones from mobile network operators. These often have a locked bootloader and do not support OEM unlocking. These phone variants will prevent you from installing any kind of alternative Android distribution.

Be very careful about buying second hand phones from online marketplaces. Always check the reputation of the seller. If the device is stolen, there's a possibility of IMEI blacklisting. There is also a risk involved with you being associated with the activity of the previous owner.

A few more tips regarding Android devices and operating system compatibility:

  • Do not buy devices that have reached or are near their end-of-life, additional firmware updates must be provided by the manufacturer.
  • Do not buy preloaded LineageOS or /e/ OS phones or any Android phones without proper Verified Boot support and firmware updates. These devices also have no way for you to check whether they've been tampered with.
  • In short, if a device or Android distribution is not listed here, there is probably a good reason, so check our discussions page.

Google Pixel

Google Pixel phones are the only devices we recommend for purchase. Pixel phones have stronger hardware security than any other Android devices currently on the market, due to proper AVB support for third-party operating systems and Google's custom Titan security chips acting as the Secure Element.

Recommendation

Google Pixel 6

Google Pixel devices are known to have good security and properly support Verified Boot, even when installing custom operating systems.

Beginning with the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, Pixel devices receive a minimum of 5 years of guaranteed security updates, ensuring a much longer lifespan compared to the 2-4 years competing OEMs typically offer.

Store

Secure Elements like the Titan M2 are more limited than the processor's Trusted Execution Environment used by most other phones as they are only used for secrets storage, hardware attestation, and rate limiting, not for running "trusted" programs. Phones without a Secure Element have to use the TEE for all of those functions, resulting in a larger attack surface.

Google Pixel phones use a TEE OS called Trusty which is open-source, unlike many other phones.

The installation of GrapheneOS on a Pixel phone is easy with their web installer. If you don't feel comfortable doing it yourself and are willing to spend a bit of extra money, check out the NitroPhone as they come preloaded with GrapheneOS from the reputable Nitrokey company.

A few more tips for purchasing a Google Pixel:

  • If you're after a bargain on a Pixel device, we suggest buying an "a" model, just after the next flagship is released. Discounts are usually available because Google will be trying to clear their stock.
  • Consider price beating options and specials offered at brick and mortar stores.
  • Look at online community bargain sites in your country. These can alert you to good sales.
  • Google provides a list showing the support cycle for each one of their devices. The price per day for a device can be calculated as: \(\text{Cost} \over \text {EOL Date }-\text{ Current Date}\), meaning that the longer use of the device the lower cost per day.

General Apps

Orbot

Recommendation

Orbot logo

Orbot is a free proxy app that routes your connections through the Tor Network.

Homepage

Downloads

Orbot can proxy individual apps if they support SOCKS or HTTP proxying. It can also proxy all your network connections using VpnService and can be used with the VPN killswitch in ⚙ SettingsNetwork & internetVPN⚙Block connections without VPN.

For resistance against traffic analysis attacks, consider enabling Isolate Destination Address in SettingsConnectivity. This will use a completely different Tor Circuit (different middle relay and exit nodes) for every domain you connect to.

Tip

Orbot is often outdated on the Guardian Project's F-Droid repository and Google Play so consider downloading directly from the GitHub repository instead.

All versions are signed using the same signature so they should be compatible with each other.

Shelter

Recommendation

Shelter logo

Shelter is an app that helps you leverage the Android work profile to isolate other apps.

Shelter supports blocking contact search cross profiles and sharing files across profiles via the default file manager (DocumentsUI).

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Warning

As CalyxOS includes a device controller, we recommend using their built-in work profile instead.

Shelter is recommended over Insular and Island as it supports contact search blocking.

When using Shelter, you are placing complete trust in its developer as Shelter would be acting as a Device Admin for the work profile and has extensive access to the data stored within it.

Auditor

Recommendation

Auditor logo Auditor logo

Auditor is an app which leverages hardware security features to provide device integrity monitoring for supported devices. Currently, it only works with GrapheneOS and the device's stock operating system.

Homepage

Downloads

Auditor performs attestation and intrusion detection by:

  • Using a Trust On First Use (TOFU) model between an auditor and auditee, the pair establish a private key in the hardware-backed keystore of the Auditor.
  • The auditor can either be another instance of the Auditor app or the Remote Attestation Service.
  • The auditor records the current state and configuration of the auditee.
  • Should tampering with the operating system of the auditee after the pairing is complete, the auditor will be aware of the change in the device state and configurations.
  • You will be alerted to the change.

No personally identifiable information is submitted to the attestation service. We recommend that you sign up with an anonymous account and enable remote attestation for continuous monitoring.

If your threat model requires privacy, you could consider using Orbot or a VPN to hide your IP address from the attestation service. To make sure that your hardware and operating system is genuine, perform local attestation immediately after the device has been installed and prior to any internet connection.

Secure Camera

Recommendation

Secure camera logo Secure camera logo

Secure Camera is a camera app focused on privacy and security which can capture images, videos and QR codes. CameraX vendor extensions (Portrait, HDR, Night Sight, Face Retouch, and Auto) are also supported on available devices.

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Main privacy features include:

  • Auto removal of Exif metadata (enabled by default)
  • Use of the new Media API, therefore storage permissions are not required
  • Microphone permission not required unless you want to record sound

Note

Metadata is not currently deleted from video files but that is planned.

The image orientation metadata is not deleted. If you enable location (in Secure Camera) that won't be deleted either. If you want to delete that later you will need to use an external app such as Scrambled Exif.

Secure PDF Viewer

Recommendation

Secure PDF Viewer logo Secure PDF Viewer logo

Secure PDF Viewer is a PDF viewer based on pdf.js that doesn't require any permissions. The PDF is fed into a sandboxed webview. This means that it doesn't require permission directly to access content or files.

Content-Security-Policy is used to enforce that the JavaScript and styling properties within the WebView are entirely static content.

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PrivacyBlur

Recommendation

PrivacyBlur logo

PrivacyBlur is a free app which can blur sensitive portions of pictures before sharing them online.

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Warning

You should never use blur to redact text in images. If you want to redact text in an image, draw a box over the text. For this we suggest Pocket Paint or Imagepipe.

Obtaining Applications

GrapheneOS App Store

GrapheneOS's app store is available on GitHub. It supports Android 12 and above and is capable of updating itself. The app store has standalone applications built by the GrapheneOS project such as the Auditor, Camera, and PDF Viewer. If you are looking for these applications, we highly recommend that you get them from GrapheneOS's app store instead of the Play Store, as the apps on their store are signed by the GrapheneOS's project own signature that Google does not have access to.

Aurora Store

The Google Play Store requires a Google account to login which is not great for privacy. The Aurora Store (a Google Play Store proxy) does not and works most of the time.

F-Droid

F-Droid is often recommended as an alternative to Google Play, particularly in the privacy community. The option to add third-party repositories and not be confined to Google's walled garden has led to its popularity. F-Droid additionally has reproducible builds for some applications and is dedicated to free and open-source software. However, there are problems with the official F-Droid client, their quality control, and how they build, sign and deliver packages, outlined in this post.

Sometimes the official F-Droid repository may fall behind on updates. F-Droid maintainers reuse package IDs while signing apps with their own keys, which is not ideal as it does give the F-Droid team ultimate trust. The Google Play version of some apps may contain unwanted telemetry or lack features that are available in the F-Droid version.

We have these general tips:

  • Check if the app developers have their own F-Droid repository first, e.g. Bitwarden, Samourai Wallet, or Newpipe, which have their own repositories with less telemetry, additional features or faster updates. This is the ideal situation and you should be using these repositories if possible.
  • Check if an app is available on the IzzyOnDroid repository. The IzzyOnDroid repository pulls builds directly from GitHub and is the next best thing to the developers' own repositories. We recommend that you download the GitHub builds and install them manually first, then use IzzyOnDroid for any subsequent updates. This will ensure that the signature of the applications you get from IzzyOnDroid matches that of the developer and the packages have not been tampered with.
  • Check if there are any differences between the F-Droid version and the Google Play Store version. Some applications like IVPN do not include certain features (eg AntiTracker) in their Google Play Store build out of fear of censorship by Google.

Evaluate whether the additional features in the F-Droid build are worth the slower updates. Also think about whether faster updates from the Google Play Store are worth the potential privacy issues in your threat model.

Neo Store

Neo Store is a recent rebrand of Droid-ify.

The official F-Droid client targets a low API level and does not utilize the seamless updates feature introduced in Android 12. Targeting lower API levels means that the F-Droid client cannot take advantage of the new improvements in the application sandboxes that comes with higher API levels. For automatic updates to work, the F-Droid client requires that the Privileged Extension be included in the operating system, granting it more privileges than what a normal app would have, which is not great for security.

To mitigate these problems, we recommend Neo Store as it supports seamless updates on Android 12 and above without needing any special privileges and targets a higher API level.

Recommendation

Neo Store logo

Neo Store is a modern F-Droid client made with MaterialUI, forked from Foxy Droid.

Unlike the official F-Droid client, Neo Store supports seamless updates on Android 12 and above without the need for a privileged extension. If your Android distribution is on Android 12 or above and does not include the F-Droid privileged extension, it is highly recommended that you use Neo Store instead of the official client.

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Manually with RSS Notifications

For apps that are released on platforms like GitHub and GitLab, you may be able to add an RSS feed to your news aggregator that will help you keep track of new releases.

RSS APK RSS APK APK Changes APK Changes

GitHub

On GitHub, using Secure Camera as an example, you would navigate to its releases page and append .atom to the URL:

https://github.com/GrapheneOS/Camera/releases.atom

GitLab

On GitLab, using Aurora Store as an example, you would navigate to its project repository and append /-/tags?format=atom to the URL:

https://gitlab.com/AuroraOSS/AuroraStore/-/tags?format=atom

Verifying APK Fingerprints

If you download APK files to install manually, you can verify their signature with the apksigner tool, which is a part of Android build-tools.

  1. Install Java JDK.

  2. Download the Android Studio command line tools.

  3. Extract the downloaded archive:

    unzip commandlinetools-*.zip
    cd cmdline-tools
    ./bin/sdkmanager --sdk_root=./ "build-tools;29.0.3"
    
  4. Run the signature verification command:

    ./build-tools/29.0.3/apksigner verify --print-certs ../Camera-37.apk
    
  5. The resulting hashes can then be compared with another source. Some developers such as Signal show the fingerprints on their website.

    Signer #1 certificate DN: CN=GrapheneOS
    Signer #1 certificate SHA-256 digest: 6436b155b917c2f9a9ed1d15c4993a5968ffabc94947c13f2aeee14b7b27ed59
    Signer #1 certificate SHA-1 digest: 23e108677a2e1b1d6e6b056f3bb951df7ad5570c
    Signer #1 certificate MD5 digest: dbbcd0cac71bd6fa2102a0297c6e0dd3