Silent Circle and Geeksphone have developed a new security-based smartphone that even they won’t be able to break into.Blackphone, which claims to be world's first smartphone that “prioritises the user's privacy and control”, is the brainchild of Phil Zimmermann, who made his mark on the security industry in 1991 when he released PGP, the most widely-used email encryption software in the world.
The new device runs a custom-focused version of Android called PrivatOS that Spanish start-up Geeksphone says will allow users to call, text, store files and conduct video chats securely. Anonymous web browsing is also possible through a virtual private network (VPN).
In an exclusive interview with Mobile Europe, Silent Circle CTO and co-founder Jon Callas said that BlackPhone would introduce advanced and unconventional encryption capabilities.
“The phone’s security works through the TCP/IP [using] an operator’s data infrastructure instead of voice to communicate. So, even if your operator authorises a third-party backdoor access on its network, your data would still be inaccessible and the security impenetrable,” claimed Callas.
“The private key exchanges between a Blackphone handset and [any other Android phone] would be completely secure, so no one would be able to eavesdrop or access the data on the phone, as the conversation between two users would be secured by cryptographic key exchanges. Even [Silent Circle technical staff] won’t be able to break or get into the system, only the key users at end points would be able to access that.”
Callas says that Silent Circle are working on iOS capabilities for Blackphone.
This is what sets Blackphone apart from other encrypted phones, such as the GSMK Cryptophone, Samsung Knox and Deutshce Telekom’s SiMKo 3, which Callas said can only be used with similar devices.
“Blackphone can be used with any other phone, but with other phones like Samsung Knox and SiMKo3, you need to have a similar device”
However, the CTO admits that no security protocols are foolproof. “There is no lock that can’t be picked, no phone in the world will be foolproof. We have done our best with Blackphone and it can be run on untrusted networks, but we can’t protect you against malwares that you install from third party sources such as apps – nobody can,” Callas explained.
The revelations from Edward Snowden about the global scale of electronic surveillance has sparked a trend for apps and gadgets designed to protect data and offer privacy.
Apps such as Confide, for example, offer privacy-focused messaging for business - messages appear a line at a time (to prevent covert screenshots of the whole message), then self-destruct.
More widely, the CTO hopes that the steady flow of news about state spying could trigger a shift in attitudes towards privacy.
“People are starting to realise how important privacy is. They have stopped trusting governments and they are looking at technology for alternatives, the attitude has shifted from ‘I don’t care’ to ‘I need to do something about this’,” he concludes.
Blackphone is due to be launched at Mobile World Congress.