January 15, 2014
Image from blackphone.ch
Silent Circle - an encryption firm that has made it its mission to defy NSA
snooping - is releasing what it says will be the world’s most secure smartphone.
"What we are trying to do is to make a smartphone whose whole purpose is to protect users’ privacy," said Phil
Zimmerman, a renowned cryptographer and one of Silent Circle’s founders.
Makers say that both the hardware and software
of the device, dubbed
the Blackphone, has been specially modified, and all
communication services come pre-installed, meaning the handset has "no hooks
to carriers or vendors."
The company has partnered with
Geeksphone, a niche Spanish phone
manufacturer that uses the Android platform for its mobile devices.
A darkened photo on the
Blackphone website is the only hint as to how the
device will look, and no specifications have been announced, though the
producers say the phone will be manufactured in security-conscious
Silent Circle was one of the biggest providers of encrypted email in the
world in the past several years, but pre-emptively shut down its services in
August last year ahead of an expected broad surveillance request by the FBI.
The company was following the example of Lavabit, which offered similar
services, until it was served with orders from the Feds to turn over its
The US authorities had suspected that fugitive National
Security Agency whistleblower
Edward Snowden may have been using the service
prior to his leaks last summer.
The two companies, who style themselves after the Rebel Alliance who fought
the Death Star in Star Wars, subsequently joined forces to develop
Mail, a new purportedly super-secure email service that is expected to be
unveiled later this year.
The Blackphone is not the first product on the market to aim for the
increasingly popular privacy niche, with a German company offering a device
Cryptophone, and another handset called
Quasar IV. But it failed
to gather enough money to go into production in a Kickstarter campaign three
And while it is obvious that these phones will offer a superior level of
protection when it comes to being tracked by business rivals or family
members, it is not clear whether they are sufficient to escape the long
reach of the NSA.
Documents revealed by Edward Snowden show that not only has the agency
cracked all the popular encryption codes, but that it also resorts to
implanting physical listening devices in equipment, as well as using other
independent interception techniques.
The security of communication also depends not only on what device is used
by the owner of the super-secure phone, but also, the location of the device
he is communicating with.
Geeksphone, which was founded by a 16-year old in 2009, also has a mixed
reputation in the business, with big announcements followed by disappointing
releases, or products that have failed to make it to the market altogether.
Nonetheless, the manufacturer says it will be taking first orders for the
Blackphone later this year.