& cplSiteName &

Privacy-Protecting 'Blackphone' to Ship in Three Weeks

Mitch Wagner
6/12/2014
50%
50%

SAN FRANCISCO -- MIT Technology Review Digital Summit -- "Blackphone," a privacy-protecting secure smartphone, is due to ship in three weeks from Silent Circle, a company co-founded by encryption pioneer Phil Zimmermann.

The Android-based Blackphone, produced in partnership with Geeksphone, will be available from carriers priced at $629, Silent Circle LLC President Zimmermann said Tuesday at a presentation at the conference here.

Silent Circle hopes to see significant demand for its product based on growing awareness of privacy and security, Zimmermann said. "More and more people are waking up to this problem," he said. "There's a growing number of people who want to push back." About 60% of people are willing to give up private information indiscriminately, but that still leaves a big potential market for Blackphone. Silent Circle expects to sell millions of the phones, Zimmermann said.

Silent Circle and Geeksphone unveiled the Blackphone at Mobile World Congress in February, and sold out its first batch of several thousand in weeks. FreedomPop also launched a secure phone -- nicknamed the "Snowden Phone" -- at about the same time. (See Blackphone Unveils Secure Smartphone, FreedomPop Launches 'Snowden Phone'.)

Silent Circle's Blackphone and encrypted communication software is designed to protect users against criminal organizations, private companies seeking information about customers and potential customers, as well as overreaching governments. Zimmermann compared Silent Circle's role to the fictional Spider-Man, who battles both criminals and corrupt authorities.

User control
Silent Circle isn't opposed to services that require users to give up information, said company chief scientist Javier Agüera. "We just want to give users control," he said. For example, Agüera said he's happy to use Google Maps to get driving directions and traffic information, and he gives up his location information to do so.

In addition to providing end-to-end encryption with other Blackphone users, Blackphone also allows users to control the data they send out to external sensors. For example, WiFi basestations can detect the locations of nearby WiFi devices such as phones even if those devices don't establish a connection. Blackphone allows its users to mask those signals, by activating WiFi only when the phone is near the home and office.

Blackphone protects application privacy by monitoring what information applications require to operate and giving the user the option to, basically, lie to the app. The phone's Security Center that tells users what information every application needs and allows users to block the app from getting the information, or trick the app with fake information. For example, an app like a recorder might require access to the phone address book to operate. The Blackphone tells the app that it can have address to the address book, and then falsely reports the address book has nothing in it. "We lie and say, 'oh, yes, here's your address book -- oh, it's empty,'" Zimmermann said. "We help you do guerrilla tricks to get what you want."

Silent Circle is not just a bunch of privacy nuts operating out of a garage. The company announced last month that it had raised $30 million in private funding from investors including Ross Perot Jr. and private investment fund Cain Capital LLC. The company claims customers including consumers in over 130 countries, 23 of the global Fortune 50 enterprises and governments from 11 nations.

Distributors include Dutch telco KPN, through which Silent Circle expects to sell hundreds of thousands of phones in Germany, where KPN is present through its ownership of E-Plus, Zimmermann said. Silent Circle has deals with other telcos too.

Silent Circle also has relationships with governments, including US Navy SEALs, and special operation forces for the UK and Canada. "We have government customers who are using us with lives on the line," Zimmermann said. That gives Silent Circle a peculiarly split relationship with governments -- security agencies who want to monitor communications find Silent Circle products to be obstacles to their work, but other government agencies use Silent Circle services for protection.

Bonnie & Clyde
Messages sent from one Blackphone to another will be encrypted end-to-end, while those sent from a Blackphone to an unsecured device will at least be encrypted from the Blackphone to Silent Circle's servers.

Silent Circle is committed to providing security updates for the phone, Agüera said. That's extremely important in security -- it's not enough for vendors to protect users against today's threats. Users need protection against future threats as well.

In addition to Blackphone, Silent Circle makes privacy apps including Silent Phone, for voice and video calls on iOS, Android, and desktop, as well as Silent Text, with a "Burn" feature that automatically deletes messages and attachments from the sender and recipient machines.

Privacy technology makes strange partnerships. Zimmermann said he was a peace activist in the 80s and teamed up with former Navy SEAL Mike Janke to form the company. Janke is Silent Circle's CEO. One of the company's most valued advisors is a hacker who finds exploits and sells them to governments or criminals -- whoever pays more.

During the Q&A following the Silent Circle presentation, one audience member asked whether the company is concerned about criminals and terrorists using the Blackphone. Zimmermann responded that criminals and terrorists always use technology, but that doesn't make the technology bad. Bonnie & Clyde used cars to outrun police when robbing banks, and terrorists today use car bombs. But no reasonable person blames cars or wants to ban them.

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to wagner@lightreading.com.

(23)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
Page 1 / 3   >   >>
pcharles09
50%
50%
pcharles09,
User Rank: Light Beer
7/29/2014 | 10:56:26 PM
Re: A lot of great features in this product
@Susan,

I'm sure the NSA would find out soon enough that you're sending them dummy data. The true upside is deterring rogue apps from siphoning your data.
Susan Fourtané
50%
50%
Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Blogger
7/28/2014 | 12:22:07 PM
Re: A lot of great features in this product
pcharles, 

That's an excellent idea. :) Maybe it helps a little when the NSA tries to get some data out from the iPhones. 

-Susan 
pcharles09
50%
50%
pcharles09,
User Rank: Light Beer
7/28/2014 | 10:03:18 AM
Re: A lot of great features in this product
@Susan,

Here's an idea. They should release an iPhone app that does the same thing. At least fooling the apps to think the Address Book, Contacts, and Albums are empty.
Susan Fourtané
50%
50%
Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Blogger
7/27/2014 | 7:38:44 AM
Re: A lot of great features in this product
pcharles, 

Yes, true. 

This is one of my favorite parts:

"The Blackphone tells the app that it can have address to the address book, and then falsely reports the address book has nothing in it. "We lie and say, 'oh, yes, here's your address book -- oh, it's empty, . . . "  :D 

For all those applications that want access to your contacts it could be the same. Oh, yes, here's all the contacts. Oops. There are no contacts. 

-Susan
pcharles09
50%
50%
pcharles09,
User Rank: Light Beer
7/22/2014 | 9:02:29 AM
Re: A lot of great features in this product
@Susan,

Sounds cool. They should make apps like that for computers too. Seems like the dummy data would thwart hackers.
Susan Fourtané
50%
50%
Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Blogger
7/1/2014 | 6:36:02 AM
Re: A lot of great features in this product
pcharles, 

From the article: 

"Blackphone protects application privacy by monitoring what information applications require to operate and giving the user the option to, basically, lie to the app. The phone's Security Center that tells users what information every application needs and allows users to block the app from getting the information, or trick the app with fake information. For example, an app like a recorder might require access to the phone address book to operate. The Blackphone tells the app that it can have address to the address book, and then falsely reports the address book has nothing in it. "We lie and say, 'oh, yes, here's your address book -- oh, it's empty, . . . "

That, for example. 

-Susan
pcharles09
50%
50%
pcharles09,
User Rank: Light Beer
6/30/2014 | 11:35:34 PM
Re: A lot of great features in this product
I understand that. But what I'm getting at is, with the 'security' & 'privacy' being the main differentiator between this phone & all other Android phones, what's the upper limit on the security & privacy? Is the expectation that no one can trace your calls, texts, etc?
Susan Fourtané
50%
50%
Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Blogger
6/30/2014 | 8:19:46 PM
Re: A lot of great features in this product
pcharles,

The main feature of this phone is to protect your privacy and it has good security. 

-Susan
pcharles09
50%
50%
pcharles09,
User Rank: Light Beer
6/30/2014 | 6:44:40 PM
Re: A lot of great features in this product
The more important question is if the authorities will start snooping if you have this phone. My guess is that the carriers will have a roster of everyone with this device, right?
Susan Fourtané
50%
50%
Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Blogger
6/29/2014 | 12:35:00 AM
Re: A lot of great features in this product
SachinEE, 

"The big question being asked is whether the privacy feature on the phones will cost people more than expected"

You can see that Mitch wrote the price of the phone in the second paragraph: 

"The Android-based Blackphone, produced in partnership with Geeksphone, will be available from carriers priced at $629, . . . "

-Susan
Page 1 / 3   >   >>
From The Founder
The independent evaluation of Nokia's key virtual network functions (VNFs) was a defining moment for the Finnish giant.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
LRTV Custom TV
Energy 2020: Growing Services, Not Consumption

6|24|16   |   07:18   |   (0) comments


Management of power requirements needs to be a key consideration as cable operators deploy new services, says Dan Cooper, vice president of critical infrastructure for Charter Communications and chair of the SCTE/ISBE Standards Program's Energy Management Subcommittee. In this video, Cooper discusses the importance of cable operators and technology partners ...
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei & TDC First to Launch DOCSIS 3.1 Trial in Europe

6|24|16   |     |   (0) comments


To meet the rising demands for high-speed broadband and to tackle fierce competition for 1.5 million household, TDC wanted to upgrade its network to use the latest technology. Using Huawei's DOCSIS 3.1 solution, TDC is now able to offer gigabit speeds to its customers.
LRTV Documentaries
OPNFV Summit: Key Takeaways

6|22|16   |   03:28   |   (0) comments


MANO shortfalls, an increasingly bloated open source ecosystem and the cultural challenges for network operators were among the key takeaways from the OPNFV Summit in Berlin.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Bringing Ultra Broadband to the South Pacific

6|22|16   |   7:55   |   (0) comments


At Singapore's UBBS 2016 summit, Light Reading speaks to Lim Chee Siong, Huawei's CMO in the South Pacific Region.
LRTV Custom TV
Juniper's NFV Platform

6|22|16   |     |   (0) comments


A telco cloud is a key enabler for service providers to deliver virtualized services to their customers. Juniper has a differentiated approach with an open and comprehensive NFV platform to build the cloud of the future for multiple use cases.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Infinera: The Glass Ceiling's Been Broken

6|22|16   |   4:34   |   (0) comments


Shannon Williams, an engineer by trade and now the director of sales for Infinera's major accounts, draws confidence from being a female in a male-dominated industry and hopes other women will too as industry dynamics swing in our favor.
LRTV Custom TV
RAD Demonstrates SD-WAN Functionality at BCE 2016

6|22|16   |     |   (0) comments


In conjunction with Versa Networks, RAD demos a joint solution for SD-WAN implementation. The solution uses RAD's ETX-2i, a vCPE platform integrating a powerful IP and Carrier Ethernet NID/NTU with a field-pluggable x86 NFV module that runs Versa's FlexVNF for SD-WAN functionality. The demo implements SD-WAN over a simulated service provider footprint by deploying ...
LRTV Custom TV
Radware on Virtualizing Network Security

6|21|16   |     |   (0) comments


Radware's Michael O'Malley highlights the benefits for service providers of virtualizing network security.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei 2016 UBBS World Tour: Singapore

6|21|16   |   02:39   |   (0) comments


Highlights from Huawei's UBBS World Tour event in Singapore.
LRTV Custom TV
The FlowBROKER Solution

6|21|16   |     |   (0) comments


During a demo at the Big Communications Event 2016, Accedian director of product line solutions Greg Spear demonstrates how the FlowBROKER distributed packet capture solution (part of Accedian's SkyLIGHT platform) can be used to troubleshoot and resolve QoE issues.

FlowBROKER is the industry's first lossless remote packet capture solution, which uses ...

LRTV Documentaries
BCE 2016: Dell & the New World Order

6|21|16   |   22:48   |   (0) comments


Dell's Jim Ganthier on how the very essence of enterprise is being affected by digital disruption – and how the cloud can help companies find a path forward.
LRTV Documentaries
BCE 2016: The CSP of the Future

6|20|16   |     |   (0) comments


Traditional telecom operators have been adopting new ways of doing business from the IT sector and emulating web-scale companies in their technology adoption. Are these strategies succeeding? A panel of experts at BCE considered the evidence...
Upcoming Live Events
September 13-14, 2016, The Curtis Hotel, Denver, CO
November 3, 2016, The Montcalm Marble Arch, London
November 30, 2016, The Westin Times Square, New York City
December 6-8, 2016,
May 16-17, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
A new survey conducted by Heavy Reading and TM Forum shows that CSPs around the world see the move to digital operations as a necessary part of their overall virtualization strategies.
Hot Topics
FCC to Vote on 5G Spectrum on July 14
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 6/20/2016
'Brexit' Vote Hits BT, Vodafone
Iain Morris, News Editor, 6/24/2016
Twitter Buys Magic Pony... Not That Kind
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 6/20/2016
AT&T Settles on LTE for Cellular IoT
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 6/22/2016
Google Fiber Buys Webpass in Wireless Play
Iain Morris, News Editor, 6/23/2016
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
At the BCE 2016 show in Austin, ECI Telecom CEO Darryl Edwards tells Light Reading founder and CEO about the Elastic Network concept and the company's NFV and cybersecurity developments.
Mark Dzuban, president and CEO of SCTE/ISBE, sits down with Steve Saunders in Light Reading's New York office to discuss the society's Energy 2020 campaign, including its mission to benefit the environment, enable economic benefits and the key challenges facing cable operators wanting to reduce energy consumption.
Animals with Phones
Live Digital Audio

Our world has evolved through innovation from the Industrial Revolution of the 1740s to the information age, and it is now entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, driven by technology. Technology is driving a paradigm shift in the way digital solutions deliver a connected world, changing the way we live, communicate and provide solutions. It can have a powerful impact on how we tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems. In this radio show, Caroline Dowling, President of Communications Infrastructure & Enterprise Computing at Flex, will join Women in Comms Director Sarah Thomas to discuss the impact technology has on society and how it can be a game-changer across the globe; improving lives and creating a smarter world. Dowling, a Cork, Ireland, native and graduate of Harvard Business School's Advanced Management Program, will also discuss her experience managing an international team focused on innovation in an age of high-speed change.