Will government call on the Blackphone for secure comm?
- By John Breeden II
- Jan 21, 2014
The latest tool for secure communication in government might be the Blackphone. The sleek, black smartphone uses encryption so users can make secure phone calls, use video chat features and store files securely. And while the Blackphone name may not be well known yet, its creators, Geeksphone and Silent Circle, are at the heart of many efforts to improve secure communications.
Geeksphone is a Madrid-based company specializing in the development, promotion and commercialization of open-source mobile telephony. The company launched an Android smartphone in 2009 and the world's first Firefox OS-powered smartphone in 2013. Silent Circle provides a peer-to-peer platform for encrypted voice, video, text and file transfer on mobile devices via a secure, proprietary network, software and mobile apps.
Besides protecting private communications between individuals, Silent Circle’s technology has been used by overseas business travelers, financial advisors, first responders and journalists who need to keep their conversations confidential. Company executives said in June that government has been an early adopter of the service, particularly U.S. military and intelligence agencies.
Blackphone will offer PrivatOS, which the company says is an Android-based operating system without all the usual security holes found on most Android phones.
Blackphone will be unveiled at Mobile World Congress in February. Silent Circle CEO and co-founder Mike Janke said it would be sold around the world at prices lower than the iPhone 5S or Samsung Galaxy S4, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.
According to the Blackphone website, the smartphone maintains privacy and security while giving users, “the freedom to choose your carrier, your apps, and your location.” Users can make and receive secure phone calls; exchange secure texts; exchange and store secure files; have secure video chat; browse privately; and anonymize activity through a VPN.
Janke acknowledges that messages can still be intercepted by inserting viruses in emails or hardware. Blackphone is not a "hardened" device like those designed for military use, he told the Agence France Presse. Today, that is handled mostly through third-party applications, like software created by Android and Fixmo for Motorola’s AME 2000 secure mobile system.
There is a lot of consumer buzz around the Blackphone in the wake of the Snowden leaks, but if government users could pick up a device like the Blackphone and have out-of-the-box, secure communications, then the very device that is being viewed as a way to thwart government snooping could also help protect it.
John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.