& 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 more things change, the more they stay the same for Juniper's next-gen comms solutions, and that's a good thing.
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 Interviews
Rogers: Millennials Prefer Mobile Video

7|1|16   |     |   (0) comments


Rogers' Upinder Saini explains how millennial viewers favor mobile devices over big TVs and non-conventional TV content over broadcast and cable networks.
LRTV Custom TV
ZTE Pre5G & 5G Solutions

6|30|16   |   02:23   |   (0) comments


At 5G World London, ZTE demonstrated two types of equipment, including 128 antenna Pre5G Massive MIMO and 15GHz high-frequency base stations.
LRTV Custom TV
Energy 2020: Technology Innovation to Fuel Power Efficiency

6|30|16   |   07:21   |   (0) comments


Managing energy costs and consumption as cable operators deploy new services requires new levels of innovation from technology partners. In this video, Dave Fellows, co-founder and CTO of Layer3 TV and chief scientist of the SCTE/ISBE Energy 2020 program, discusses such ambitious objectives as achieving a second 500% increase in efficiency in outside plant ...
LRTV Custom TV
Transitioning to Service Agile Networks

6|30|16   |     |   (0) comments


Packet optical networks are transitioning from proprietary converged systems to open disaggregated platforms. This video will describe the Fujitsu 1FINITY disaggregated platform, explore how 1FINITY interoperates with the Fujitsu FLASHWAVE platform and explain how 1FINITY is designed for software control, like with Fujitsu Virtuora NC.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Nokia's Advancement Plan: Bring Old Skills to New Roles

6|29|16   |   7:57   |   (1) comment


Nokia's Sandy Motley advises women to change their mindsets; get aggressive about advancing their careers; develop strong, diverse support networks; and always bring forth learned skills to take on new challenges and different roles.
Between the CEOs
CEO Chat: Cisco's Yvette Kanouff

6|28|16   |     |   (0) comments


In Silicon Valley, Steve Saunders sits down with Cisco's Yvette Kanouff for an exclusive in-depth interview.
LRTV Interviews
Comcast: Prepping Next-Gen Video Services

6|28|16   |     |   (0) comments


In this LRTV interview, Comcast's Elad Nafshi outlines where MSO stands with cloud DVR, OTT video, college and gigabit services.
LRTV Custom TV
Energy 2020: Creating Unique Standards for Cable's Unique Networks

6|28|16   |   09:30   |   (0) comments


Cable's unique network requirements require a specific set of standards for operators to increase power efficiency, according to Dan Cooper, vice president of critical infrastructure for Charter Communications and chair of the SCTE/ISBE Standards Program's Energy Management Subcommittee, and Ian Oliver, managing director of the Trenchant Group and a member of the ...
LRTV Custom TV
Masergy: 'Now Is the Time for NFV'

6|28|16   |     |   (0) comments


Hear Ray Watson, VP of Global Technology at Masergy, talk about the advantages that enterprises can leverage using Network Function Virtualization (NFV), and how Masergy takes a unique approach to solving customers' problems. For more information on Masergy, please visit www.masergy.com.
LRTV Custom TV
Masergy Leads the Charge With NFV Capabilities

6|28|16   |     |   (0) comments


Hear Tim Naramore, CTO at Masergy, talk about how focusing on solving specific customer challenges, providing self-service automation tools and being laser focused on the customer experience has enabled Masergy to be a leader in the NFV space. For more information on Masergy, please visit www.masergy.com.
LRTV Custom TV
Private Company of the Year - Affirmed Networks

6|27|16   |     |   (0) comments


At BCE 2016, Steve Saunders speaks to Hassan Ahmed about Affirmed's success.
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 ...
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
Brexit: It's Hard to See an Upside
Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-chief, 6/29/2016
Qualcomm Readies Lower-Band 5G Testbed
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 6/27/2016
DT Eyes FTTH Solution to German Opex Issue
Iain Morris, News Editor, 6/29/2016
Sigfox Said to Face Customer Backlash
Iain Morris, News Editor, 6/27/2016
Disney Deals $3.5B for MLBAM Stake – Report
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 7/1/2016
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
In Silicon Valley, Steve Saunders sits down with Cisco's Yvette Kanouff for an exclusive in-depth interview.
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.
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.