Blackphone: Privacy-obsessed Smartphone

Can you hear me now? Not if you’re eavesdropping on a Blackphone. 

Privacy company Silent Circle has released a second version of its signature handheld, a smartphone designed to quell the data scraping and web tracking that’s become such an integral part of the digital economy in the last few years (and whose results might well end up with the NSA, if the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act passes).

Silent Circle is the brainchild of the inventor of the modestly named “Pretty Good Privacy” (PGP) encryption, Phil Zimmermann, and former Navy Seal Team Six sniper Mike Janke. In the beginning, Janke said, the Blackphone project was just a way for people working for his security firm SOC, since sold, to call home without having their communications intercepted. With its newer and easier to use model, it’s seeking industry clients in addition to individual security wonks.
“I began going around from Silicon Valley to Germany to Spain, and there just wasn’t anything,” Janke said. “I went Nato, I went to the US, to the British governments, and they all said, ‘No, we don’t know of anything,’ and I said, ‘Come on, you’ve got to have some super-secret tech,’ and they said, ‘No, it’s a big problem for us.’”
So Janke, who remembered using PGP as a Seal, sought out Zimmermann and went to work. Now, as the new iPhone and Samsung models hit the market, the Switzerland-based company, which runs a heavily modified version of Google’s Android mobile operating system, finally has support from Google.

Google didn’t support the initial software build, something that probably helped make the phone more popular, rather than less, with people concerned about NSA backdoors and data leakage. But now the tech giant is trying to break into the business software market, and that’s a sector that Silent Circle, with its subscription-based business model, has its sights set on. (The subscriptions to secure call and messaging apps that come with the Blackphone run out after a year.)
The new operating system is “about 20% Lollipop”, said CEO, Bill Conner, referring to the Android version Blackphone currently uses.

Google support is a relief to Silent Circle – in the previous version of the phone, users couldn’t download anything from the Google Play store and had to manage installation through web downloads or an old-fashioned hardware connection. The new version lets users download whatever they want and tweak its access to your data as you see fit in much the way the iPhone does – a feature Google-distributed builds of Android have notably avoided over the years.

Blackphone is encrypted end to end, if both people on the line are using either the phone itself or Silent Circle’s call and messaging apps. If someone tries to break into a Blackphone call, they’ll get a notification and the call will drop.
“But let’s say I have my Blackphone and I left my jacket at a hotel in Paris and they have a big, old landline and I’m calling from New York,” said Janke.
“I dial their number and I’m encrypted all the way from New York to the Paris public switch telephone network, and then I’m open to them,” he explained. “It’s either encrypted completely end-to-end, or encrypted to the public switch network and then open from there.”
Janke said he still hopes Google will adopt some of Silent Circle’s own features: “We hope that Google will federate some of the capabilities [of our phone],” he said. “They’ve got [support for multiple personas] in Android that’s coming out now. The problem with it is that it still leaves data across those spaces and the spaces aren’t segregated all the way down to the chip.”

Guardian:http://http://bit.ly/1VPGYMg

 

 

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