'Blackphone' promises ultimate, NSA-busting privacy

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

Feb 26, 2014

What’s the opposite of "trust" - the GSMA-promoted theme at the show? "Mistrust" doesn’t go far enough, so it has to be paranoia. The Blackphone is paranoia made flesh (or plastic in this case).

It’s an upmarket Android phone with a slightly adapted Android OS, called Privat OS, the critical privacy bits of which are being donated back to the open source project as they should be, “so that everyone can see what we’ve done and how it works,” Blackphone MD Toby Weir-Jones told me.

“The idea is simple: this is a standard phone but it has a full turnkey suite of security products built right into it.”

Just about everything is covered. There is lots of encryption, though this only works between two Blackphones, or between a Blackphone and Silent Circle’s existing stand-alone software products. Then there’s completely secure browsing. Data is encrypted at the handset and sent to a VPN which then uses proxy addresses to onward browse on behalf of the user

There’s no identity showing at all. All the voice and texting is done with straight data packets, encrypted. “The carrier or anyone else can’t even tell what the packets contain, can’t tell if it’s a voice conversation or a data file,” he says.

The phone itself is bought and used without any identity changing hands as well.

“All the security that’s on the phone is widely available and can be gathered and arranged by those who are already predisposed to this sort of thing,” says Toby. But the Blackphone, he explains, is for a new tier of user who doesn’t know much about security “except that he wants to have it on his phone.”

Clearly a new level of security and privacy awareness has been reached in the wake of the revelations about the NSA’s information gathering habits.

“Really this is an upmarket phone, priced world-wide at $629.00 with two years’ worth of security subscription. As well as the VPN and the security keys there is a secure file storage feature. Everything you could need for security and so it’s for the premium buyer. Instead of going for a new iPhone because it has a pretty case or whatever, the buyer will go for an upmarket phone with total security built into it.”

Toby says it’s selling very well, but also that he has a few big carriers keen to take it and a KPN deal in the hundreds of thousands covering Holland, Belgium and Germany.

So did they start this in the wake of NSA-gate?

“No, six months before. We’ve really been very fortunate on the timings.”

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