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Bought a Blackphone off eBay? An update could brick your device

Why it matters to you

If you want to buy a super secure Blackphone, don't get one on eBay or you'll end up with a bricked phone.

Owners of Silent Circle’s security-minded Blackphone who purchased the device from vendors other than the company itself or one of its approved sellers are finding themselves with a security-minded paperweight after a recent update. Thing is, the update is functioning precisely as Silent Circle intended.

In an effort to crackdown on gray-market devices that have been manufactured without the company’s consent or are straight-up counterfeits, the 3.0.8 release of Silent OS, which was pushed to the Blackphone 2 last week, deliberately disables phones that Silent Circle identifies as fraudulent. The company warned potential buyers against buying from unauthorized resellers on January 16 before issuing the update.

More: Keep your Facebook account safer with a physical USB key or NFC-enabled phone

A user in Germany shared his experience of a bricked device with Ars Technica on Friday. The owner purchased the phone off eBay and reports that, after upgrading to 3.0.8, he was hit with the following message:

“This smartphone has been identified as an unlicensed device. Only Blackphones sold through accredited vendors are authorized to operate SilentOS. SilentOS has been disabled on this device.”

The message invites users to contact customer support if they believe their device is legitimate.

When the individual reached out to Silent Circle, a representative responded that the IMEI number provided was not that of an official Blackphone, and the company could not provide any further assistance.

“Silent Circle is aware that unauthorized devices have been manufactured as Blackphones and we’re working aggressively to stop the sale of those,” said Blair Young, Silent Circle’s VP of Product Management, in a statement. “As we’ve counseled, it’s imperative for consumers and companies to work directly with authorized sales partners when purchasing the Blackphone 2. We invite people to check with us prior to purchasing, so we can help them be sure they’re securing an authorized phone to ensure they get the software and services that come with it.”

Of course, purchasing a phone designed primarily to be secure from a potentially disreputable eBay seller is certainly counter-intuitive and Silent Circle cannot guarantee the protection of such devices. However, the company’s decision to brick illegitimate Blackphones is controversial, as buying from resellers is fairly common practice with smartphone buyers.