Barcelona – Telecommunications Weekly reports the launch of a new secure phone for those who do not want the NSA or anyone else spying on their communications. However Silent Circle, the secure communications firm that launched the phone- later said its not immune to NSA-level break-in
And although the aptly-named Blackphone says it “is not just for the tinfoil hat crowd” in fact it is exactly for the technically minded since it requires complicated software to use, which must be operated, and paid for, separately from the phone itself. It relies heavily on a peer to peer sharing network which was founded by Phil Zimmerman, the author of the PGP encryption protocol.
In a market where every Android handset vendor is trying to differentiate itself, Blackphone is standing out – it already had 1400 news stories since Wednesday. The $629 phone “puts privacy and security first,” says Toby Weir-Jones, managing director at Blackphone. But only if you want to go to the trouble of learning a lot of new protocols. That security includes the content of the device, your texts, phone calls, and online storage. What it won’t include is your email. After the secure email service Lavabit shut down last year, Silent Circle had to shelf its SilentMail product. Between the power of the NSA and the power of the subpoena there is simply no way to keep email safe.
Security on Blackphone comes from two places: the custom-built PrivateOS, built on Android, and a collection of third-party security services. The Security Center in PrivateOS offers a tool for managing app permissions that blows away stock Android, letting users clearly see what apps can do what. The OS also ships with Smart Wi-Fi manager, which protects your wireless connections when on untrusted networks.
Even so, $629 is a lot to pay for a smartphone, especially in the U.S. where users are addicted to comfortable with carrier subsidies. Weir-Jones says the value comes with the services bundled with every phone purchase: two years of Silent Circle ($240), three one-year “Friends and Family” subscriptions, two years of the Disconnect VPN service ($120), and two years of Spideroak online storage for ($120). Throw in a handy international power adapter kit and the total value of a Blackphone could top $1,508.
Blackphone is powered by a 2 GHz quad‐core CPU, 4.7-inch HD IPS screen, 2GB DDR3 RAM, a mere 16GB of storage, and a lowly 8-megapixel camera. It also supports Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11n, and GPS, although the exact specs may change before it launches.
This security come with a few caveats, says Weir-Jones. First, to secure communications, the people you talk to must also be using Silent Circle; the phone comes with three, one-year subscriptions so pick your private conversations. Second, the solution is built on Android, which in addition to being the most popular smartphone platform in the world is also the most frequently targeted. That said, there aren’t many other options. Finally, the Blackphone can’t provide security against NSA-level attacks. It seems nothing can.
“We want to protect against real world security threats,” says Weir-Jones. “We are not saying go off the grid, we are just allowing users to choose what to leak-or should I say share.”
The “BYOD” trend has made the need for phone security even more important. “The amount of business and personal information we put on these devices is astounding,” say Mike Kershaw, chief architect at Blackphone. The phone is completely agnostic when it comes to mobile device management platforms, so businesses will still be able to manage Blackphones.
Although the Blackphone can be used worldwide, so far one carrier has agreed to sell the phone at launch. KPN Mobile will offer the phone Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. Given the public outcry in Germany over NSA wiretapping, Germany is probably ready for a products like Blackphone.
Blackphone is made by SGP Technologies, a joint venture of Silent Circle and Geeksphone, and it has an impressive security pedigree. “I have spent my whole career working to uphold the objectives of privacy,” Phil Zimmermann, co‐founder of Silent Circle and author of PGP, wrote in a statement. “Now that the mobile technologies are mature enough, we couldn’t be more proud of the launch of Blackphone, the first mainstream, fully‐integrated secure communications phone, designed for anyone to use as easily as the legacy phones they’re used to already.”
The Blackphone is
available for pre-order today for $649 unlocked. It ships in June.
The phone’s makers announced a strategic partnership with Dutch telecommunications carrier KPN N.V. The partnership makes KPN the inaugural carrier partner for Blackphone – the world’s first privacy-focused smartphone – developed through a Switzerland-based joint-venture of Silent Circle and Geeksphone and launching on Feb. 24 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. KPN will distribute Blackphone handsets to individuals and enterprises among its 44.5 million subscribers across Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and resell Silent Circle’s encrypted mobile apps and services like Silent Phone and Silent Text to give its customers a full range of privacy options for their sensitive business and personal communications.
“KPN believes and is committed to secure and reliable communications for everyone,” said Jaya Baloo, KPN’s Chief Information Security Officer. “Customers want to protect their sensitive and private information in the best possible way. This is a unique opportunity to offer encrypted voice, data, and video through our exclusive cooperation withSilent Circle, and KPN can once again pioneer in the global telecommunications arena.”
“This unique partnership demonstrates that KPN is one of the most innovative telecoms in the world,” said Silent Circle CEO and co-founder Mike Janke. “They have one of the world’s strongest privacy and security commitments of any telecom, lead by their CEO Eelco Blok and their CSO Jaya Baloo. This further showcases KPN’s commitment to bringing privacy and secure communications to the citizens of Europe.”
KPN will help meet high European demand for Blackphone and its wireless subscribers can additionally use their existing customer accounts to purchase the Silent CircleMobile package, which includes Silent Phone and Silent Text and gain a full range of private communications features for their iOS or Android devices. KPN users can place private voice and video calls with Silent Phone and exchange private text messages with Silent Text, including support for file transfers up to 100MB and additional “Burn Notice” auto-delete protection for documents and multimedia files. To ensure complete privacy, Silent Circle’s apps and services never log user metadata and manage encryption keys exclusively on users’ devices; meaning Silent Circle and its carrier partners cannot decipher the contents of users’ calls and messages.
Silent Circle’s partnership with KPN underscores the companies’ shared commitment to protecting customers’ privacy and further establishes Silent Circle’s leadership in offering an unmatched, private encrypted platform meeting worldwide demand for secure alternatives to vulnerable communications mediums. Through their partnership, the companies will leverage KPN’s network infrastructure to deliver a dedicated Silent Circle Out-Circle Access calling option for the European market in 2014. Out-Circle access allows a Silent Phone subscriber to place calls to traditional landlines, cell and other phone numbers. These calls “Outside the Circle” are encrypted from the Silent Phone user’s handset to the edge of Silent Circle’s secure private network in a given region, before they are routed to conventional phone systems. With KPN’s support, European Out-Circle Access will add an additional measure of convenience for Silent Phone users requiring the ability to call conventional numbers in Europe and elsewhere.
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