Cloud Computing, Hardware, Software Programs, Technology Security

Swiss-based Blackphone Promises to Bring Privacy Back to Smartphones

According to a very brief PR release from Blackphone, a joint venture between Geeksphone and Silent Circle, they have created a phone that gives consumers their privacy back. With all of the countless NSA revelations and surveillance developments, people simply don’t feel like their communications or location are protected anymore. And when you take into account all of the various smartphone hacks that the NSA has developed (back in 2008) there obviously is a lot of ambivalence towards communicating sensitive information via smartphones.

The joint venture is between a Spanish handset maker, Geeksphone and a Washington D.C. based security firm, Silent Circle. While I don’t know the exact reasons for founding the joint venture in Switzerland (using a .ch URL), I suspect that it may be a symbolic one as well as one that may gain certain legal protections from Swiss law. The phone itself appears to be a a run-of-the-mill Android phone with a secure custom Android build called PrivatOS. This operating system was modified by the experts at Silent Circle to guarantee a certain level of encryption and security. However, they have been very light on details in terms of how they secure the device and how they can guarantee privacy and security.

Here is a video that they put up on Vimeo to explain the motivations and goals of the project.

They also state that it has special tools installed on the Blackphone to give you everything you need to control exactly what your digital footprint is left on the internet and what metadata can and can’t be seen by various agencies. I suspect that they may be developing their own messaging and calling applications that are heavily encrypted and that they don’t guarantee that all applications outside of their ‘toolbox’ are secure. However, they do mention the ability to make and recieve secure phone calls, texts, file transfers and video chat. They also state that the device is capable of private browsing and VPN connectivity, but they don’t really explain how you can anonymize your traffic other than saying through a VPN, which could be hosted by them.

The Blackphone smartphone will be available for pre-order starting February 24th, at Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona. The phone itself will come and will work on virtually any GSM carrier. They say that performance benchmarks put it at the same level as any other leading smartphone manufacturer, yet they fail to say exactly which SoC they’re using. Afterall, how do we know that the SoC doesn’t have a backdoor built into it if its made by a Chinese or American firm? We’ve got no price yet, but I suspect that it won’t be cheap. We clearly need mroe specs about the device, but I think that they believe that the specs are irrelevant and that the security is what they are selling, not the device.