Silent Circle, a global encrypted communications service from Washington D.C., and Geeksphone, a Spanish company that recently released the Revolution dual-OS smartphone, announced Blackphone – a smartphone that promises to “place privacy and control directly in the hands of its users”.
The Blackphone is a carrier and vendor-independent smartphone that gives individuals and organizations the ability to make and receive secure phone calls, exchange secure texts, transfer and store files, and video chat without compromising user privacy on the device. Blackphone is powered by a security-oriented Android build, named PrivatOS. This fork of Android contains a Security Center that lets users modify every permission Android apps may want to take advantage of, both on app-by-app and system-wide basis. For example, you could cut access to location, phonebook, messaging data, and other common malware targets. In addition, there's a "Wi-Fi manager" that prevents tracking, and an integrated ad-blocker that will prevent websites from targeting ads in your direction based on browsing habits and email keywords.
Apart from PrivatOS, what makes this phone tick in a secure manner is Silent Circle's suite of apps. Silent Phone provides two-side encrypted VoIP calls. Silent Text does the same for messaging. Silent Contacts uses some unspecified means to protect your phonebook from prying eyes. Although all of these apps are available for other Android and iOS devices, we presume they are integrated deeper within the Blackphone's software back-end.
There is another catch. Silent Circle's applications encrypt your communications two-ways only if the other side is security-conscious enough to be using them as well. These apps require paid subscription, of which not many users will be keen on. Thus, everybody who buys a Blackphone will receive three extra one-year subscriptions to hand to people they need to speak with in private. After the subscriptions run out, users will have to pay $10 per month, or buy a Blackphone.
Interestingly, Silent Circle plans to open-source a "vast majority" of the phone's code in an effort to improve its product. The open approach has worked out for Google, Mozilla, and Jolla, for example. By fostering a developer community, they are able to provide frequent updates and cover loopholes quickly. This is smart thinking on Silent Circle's behalf.
The Blackphone will be up for pre-order soon. The off-contract price will be $629. Silent Circle points out that the price includes over $850 in additional service subscriptions, which is compelling, to say the least. It also offers a decent feature-set, such as a 4.7-inch IPS display, a 2GHz quad-core CPU, 16GB of storage, 8MP camera, and LTE.
There are many a reasons to be sceptic about a security-centric device that relies on largely familiar protection methods, instead of truly ground-breaking technology. However, most of the people behind Silent Circle could crush malware by simply staring it down.For example, CEO Mike Janke is an ex-US Navy Seal (as you know, there are no former marines); Phil Zimmermann, author of an email encryption software package that put him under a three-year criminal investigation; Jon Callas, CTO and “former Security Privateer at I Could Tell You But Then I'd Have To Kill You and Associates” (as taken from his LinkedIn Page). Feeling secure now?