While news of smartphone hacks, data sniffing, and government intrusion has regrettably become commonplace, it’s also had the consequence of raising public awareness of privacy risks which used to be solely the domain of security geeks. In this climate of readiness, Blackphone is launching a smartphone it says will be both secure and user-friendly, developed as a partnership between founders of the encryption firm Silent Circle and phone manufacturer Geeksphone.
Most existing smartphones rely on the GSM protocol to secure communications to and from the device, but a cryptophone, such as Blackphone, goes one significant step further, with a cryptography chip encrypting (and decrypting) data transmission. In the case of an attack on the phone that disables the GSM protection, data still remains encrypted due to its additional layer of security.
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The company promises that Blackphone will be unlocked for use with any GSM carrier and won't hook into any carrier or vendor, while additionally meeting the benchmarks of other top performing phones.
While specs on the phone are currently slim, the team does describe security being integrated through all layers of the phone, from hardware up to apps, and allowing users to securely engage in making and receiving phone calls, texting, file storage, video chat, private browsing, and VPN anonymizing. The phone will run on a secure flavor of Android called PrivatOS.
The company's founders have strong credentials in cryptography and mobile telephony. Silent Circle was responsible for creating a suite of tools for encrypted communication, and more famously, is known for its founder’s creation of PGP, or Pretty Good Privacy. In fact, the creator of PGP Phil Zimmerman describes his interest in PGP as a “detour” from his main interest in secure telephony, something which had to wait until now to let technology catch up.
Geeksphone is known for building other Android phone models and is currently working with Mozilla to create its line of phones.
While there are already phones built with encryption in the hardware, such as the GMSK CryptoPhone, it’s offered at a high €1500 (US$2,040) and has a more “corporate” website. It seems that Blackphone may be positioning itself on the other side of the customer spectrum, with its statement that phones today are about personality and its offering is a “marriage of innovation and style.”
We’ll find out more when Blackphone reveals its cryptophone at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on February 24. Pre-orders will also begin on this date but pricing has not yet been announced.
Blackphone explains the idea behind its device in the following video.