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Blackphone Aims to Keep Spooks in the Dark

Blackphone Aims to Keep Spooks in the Dark

Big Brother may have a harder time watching you if you carry a Blackphone -- at least, that's the promise of its makers, who plan to debut the super-secure device at the Mobile World Congress next month. The steady flow of revelations about just how deeply the NSA has been sticking its nose into ordinary citizens' business has opened a new market for snoop-proof technologies.

By Kris Holt
01/15/14 2:40 PM PT

Silent Circle and Geeksphone have teamed up to create the Blackphone -- a smartphone designed to truly protect users' privacy.

Carrier- and vendor-independent, the Blackphone allows users to make and receive phone calls securely, as well as transfer and store files, swap secure text messages, and conduct video chats without compromising their privacy, the companies claim. Users also can anonymize their activity through the use of virtual private networks.

Powered by PrivatOS

The device is powered by PrivatOS, a custom, security-focused Android build.

It is the "Android you are familiar with, which includes all of the available apps with an additional security measure that allows for encrypted messages and the extra level of privacy ... users are demanding," said Javier Aguera, cofounder of Geeksphone.

The Blackphone handset, which is compatible with any GSM carrier, will come preinstalled with the tools users need to stay on the move, carry out business, and keep in touch with others while blocking out snoops, its makers promise.

NSA Concerns

Privacy is under the spotlight like never before following the bombshell revelations of government spying former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden unleashed starting last June.

To keep Blackphone communications truly secure, both the sender and recipient of communications would need to use encrypted devices and clients. If a recipient should use an email client to which government spies might have access, for instance, it would render the privacy functions of Blackphone moot.

Blackphone is far from the first project to attempt to maintain complete user privacy: Other ventures include the GSMK CryptoPhone and the Quasar IV. With that in mind, the growing market may be able to afford consumers several choices of handsets and clients for secure communications.

Barcelona Debut

Silent Circle and Geeksphone will debut the Blackphone handset at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 24. Preorders will begin on that day; pricing details are currently unavailable.

Geeksphone and Silent Circle have not disclosed any of the phone's specifications nor how the cryptography works. However, details about specifications, PrivatOS features, and what will be bundled with the Blackphone will be revealed at Mobile World Congress.

Credibility Issue

"The problem they're going to have is being credible as a security provider," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.

"When you're already nervous about something, trust becomes incredibly important -- and how well you know the players that are providing the product becomes critical. These guys are not well-known, at least not to the people who are likely to buy the phone," he said.

"It's a growing niche, thanks to the NSA. The NSA is creating a significant amount of demand for products not created in the U.S. that are secure. There's an opportunity here, but you still have to have a brand people will trust. People have to believe you will deliver on your promise," Enderle emphasized.

"The issues around the NSA and pervasiveness of security organizations in penetrations of people's personal computers and other devices, including smartphones, has put a lot of people on edge," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld. "I do think there are a good number of consumers and businesses who will take it upon themselves to purchase and use the most secure devices with the greatest level of security that's possible."


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