New Silent Phone Protects Your Privacy

Category: Privacy , Telephony

Privacy and security are heightened concerns for many smartphone users in the wake of revelations about government surveillance. The top-tier phone manufacturers are not doing much to address these issues yet, but at least one startup company is. Learn more about Silent Circle and the Blackphone...

Secure Voice, Video and Text Communications

Silent Circle, co-founded by privacy and encryption pioneer Phil Zimmerman, offers a suite of apps for iPhone and Android mobile devices, that makes it possible to have secure voice calling and text messaging -- without any worries that NSA, FBI, CIA or some third-world hacker might be listening in.

The bigger news is that Silent Circle is taking pre-orders for its first hardware product, the Blackphone, which is slated to be available in June, 2014. From the ground up, the Blackphone is designed to protect privacy and keep your mobile data secure.

The hardware’s specs of the $630 Blackphone are respectable: 4.7-inch HD IPS screen, 2+ GHz quad core CPU, 2 GB RAM, 16 GB storage, LTE, HSPA+, 8-megapixel front camera with flash, plus rear camera.
Secure Encrypted Blackphone

Privacy-protecting software begins with PrivateOS, a customized version of Android. The Blackphone also comes loaded with a suite of Silent Circle Apps including:

Silent Phone: enables secure voice calls and video chats; conference calls between up to 6 Silent Circle subscribers

Silent Text: encrypted text messages, media files, and document files of up to 100 MB, with optional “burn notice,” a time set by the sender at which the message or file will self-destruct. A new encryption key is generated for every message and it never leaves your phone.

Silent Contacts: replacing the native Android contact manager, this app encrypts all of your contact data and gives the user control over who to share contacts with.

The Blackphone also has a built-in firewall; a security-hardened client for the SpiderOak cloud storage service; the Kismet WiFi Manager that prevents inadvertent WiFi connections to networks you have not used before; a remote “kill-switch” to disable the phone if it is lost or stolen; and selected secure third-party apps to be announced in June.

All of the network security is provided by the Silent Circle subscription-based network. A year’s free subscription comes with the Blackphone; thereafter, using Silent Circle Apps requires a $10/month subscription.

The Blackphone is unlocked and can be used with any GSM-based carrier. Most mobile providers outside the U.S. use GSM networks. In the U.S., the major GSM players are AT&T or T-Mobile. Both Verizon and Sprint use CDMA networks, so they're out of the Blackphone game.

Silent Circle Apps for Other Phones

Even without a Blackphone, however, you can still use the Silent Circle apps to enable secure, encrypted voice/video calling and text messaging. You can download the Silent Phone, Silent Text and Silent Contacts apps for iPhone or Android, in their respective app stores. The apps are free, but can only be used if you have a Silent Circle subscription, which costs $9.95 monthly or $99 annually.

There's even a Silent Circle Desktop app ($69.95 annually), which uses your Internet connection to enable secure VOIP communications. Think of this option as something like Skype on encryption-powered steroids.

Communicating Outside the Circle

So you've got yourself inside the Silent Circle, and you can communicate securely with other Silent Circle subscribers. What if youwant to call a landline or cell phone belonging to a friend or relative who is not using Silent Circle?

You’re not limited to other Silent Circle subscribers. Using the optional Out-Circle Access plan ($24 monthly), the Blackphone (or other phone with Silent Circle apps) can communicate with any other, non-subscribing phone in the U. S., Canada, and Puerto Rico (other areas will be added).

Between your secured phone and Silent Circle’s servers, communications are encrypted; they’re decrypted and passed along to the non-subscribing phone, and responses are encrypted before being passed back to you. Anyone monitoring your phone communications would have to figure out which Silent Circle server port was transmitting the unencrypted version of your communication, a daunting task. Out-Circle Access gives you up to 3000 minutes per month to communicate securely with non-subscribers.

Silent Circle's Blackphone has a nifty set of features, but as a business model, it’s vulnerable to imitators. One of the main benefits of Silent Circle may be its stimulation of other, established handset makers and carriers to offer similar security services. In any event, Silent Circle provides a place where users can express their need for privacy by using and paying for it.

On a related note: Boeing Corp. has built a “Mission Impossible” style self-destructing handset exclusively for government agencies and contractors. This device is sealed with epoxy and tamper-resistant screws; if any effort is made to open it, all data and software are destroyed. Multiple encryption techniques protect data in storage and transmission. The Boeing phone is marketed mainly to U.S. security and defense contractors.

Would you buy a Blackphone, or use apps to enable encrypted communications? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "New Silent Phone Protects Your Privacy"

Posted by:

Jack Z
28 Feb 2014

Greatest thing to come along...way over due. Yes I will use it.


Posted by:

David Ruedeman
28 Feb 2014

Note that this is THE Phil Zimmerman who was investigated by U.S. Customs for allegedly exporting the encryption algorithms in PGP (pretty good privacy) which he wrote. This was immortalized in the "this T-shirt is a munition" a number of years back.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, the same awesome guy! He's a hero to everyone but the U.S. government.


Posted by:

Jim
28 Feb 2014

Great a new tool for terrorists and other criminals to evade the law.


Posted by:

MmeMoxie
28 Feb 2014

WOW ... Another great article, with lots of information! Thanks Bob, for simply bringing your followers, the latest in technical devices and apps.

First thought, that came to mind ... Why is it, when a good, safe idea and protections for mobile or computer devices, comes into play for the consumer ... It can also, protect the "Bad Guys!!!" The Dual Edge Sword comes into play ... Once, again.

My biggest complaint is the pricing. IF ... It works, it still doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. This company must be taking it's business plan, from Microsoft. Sorry, but again, that is what went through my mind, when I read the article and went to Silent Circle's website.

One major problem, with Silent Circle ... The whole protection process is best, when whoever you are calling or texting has the same Silent Circle! I know, you can get an added Option, of calling Landline phones and other phones, that do not have this service ... For another, added, ex-amount of dollars.

Another thought, went through my mind ... This possibly could be the "wave" of the future ... And, the "Bad Guys" will want this program, as well ... So, in the end, has anyone really gained protection or not?

The geek side of me ... Wants to get their hands on the Black Phone, just to test it out ... Had to mention that. The Black Phone looks interesting. Price is expensive, just like ALL cellular phones!!! Really wish, they manufacturers would stop trying to make gazillions off of the consumer and price cell phones cheaper.


Posted by:

Daniel
28 Feb 2014

I love the concept (not the price) but I'm a bit confused. Silent Circle closed it's encrypted email service back in August because of concerns about what the Government would try to force them to do. What has changed? I realize this is mobile device services vs email. But, aren't the basics of their concerns still the same?

Nevertheless, I hope to be able to afford this service soon. Eventually, I hope they can afford to lower the cost considerably so the average person can take advantage of this.

EDITOR'S NOTE:: Nothing has changed. Silent Mail and a similar encruypted email service did shut down last fall, citing concerns about the government. But they have since teamed up on this project: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2059840/silent-circle-lavabit-unite-for-dark-mail-encrypted-email-project.html


Posted by:

Tony
28 Feb 2014

Totally with Mme Moxie's take on this topic with the exception that I am an Australian citizen and love being so as well as being a lifelong admirer of the US irrespective of its perceived strengths and weaknesses.

In short, everything that can be done, should be done to preserve the integrity and security of the US - maybe a tad cringe-worthy I know but true nonetheless


Posted by:

patrick giyan
28 Feb 2014

Hell yeah ! 😀


Posted by:

Mr. Ed
28 Feb 2014

Being an early adopter of this type of phone seems like an excellent way to paint a big red bulleye on your chest. The NSA, FBI, and everyone else will assume you are a crook and/or a terrorist with something to hide. And don't kid yourself that they won't immediately be able to come up with a list of users.


Posted by:

Joe M
28 Feb 2014

Great article, Bob. Thank you.

Of course as other have mentioned, anything that can be used for good can be used for evil. Nothing new there. So the point is not material to the discussion.

While I do value my privacy, I would not purchase this phone as nobody I communicate with would get this phone. So, as mentioned, once the communication leaves the secured network, it can be picked up by the telcos, government, etc and the point is moot. As I frequently communicate with friends and family located outside the US, I'm sure information about me is sitting in some database somewhere at the telcos and NSA.

I would rather the effort be spent in trying to curb the abuses already being committed by the government, black-hats, etc.

I was at Black Hat and attended the session where General Alexander flat out lied to the audience about the "protections" that existed to ensure abuses by the NSA didn't happen.


Posted by:

Robert
28 Feb 2014

I saw this phone featured on national news program (US) recently and I am real tempted, even though I really have nothing much to hide, really. And I barely use my $8/month Tracfone as it is... mostly for take-out Chinese food pickup... The good news here though is that I would suspect eventual popularity and competition will bring some of these features to the mainstream at lower prices.


Posted by:

Unitary
01 Mar 2014

Bob,

Please note a technical correction.

>>> Most mobile providers outside the U.S. use GSM networks... Both Verizon and Sprint use CDMA networks.

Actually, the vast majority of mobile providers outside the U.S. comply with the Wideband Code-Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) Standard. (GSM is a 2G Standard that has been phased out.) Verizon and Sprint comply with the CDMA-2000 Standard.

While both WCDMA and CDMA-2000 are 3G standards that are based on the CDMA principle, they are not compatible.

The outlook for 4G cellular is better. Initially, the 4G successor of CDMA-2000 was planned to be the Ultra Mobile Broadband (UMB) Standard. However, Qualcomm (who developed CDMA-2000) abandoned the UMB project several years ago. Thus, the successors of both WCDMA and CDMA-2000 are LTE and LTE-Advanced. The latter is the real 4G standard.


Posted by:

TheRube
02 Mar 2014

Hello Mr. Rankin:

This what a YouTuber, a Babba60528 wrote in the comments section of the Silent Circle Youtube video:

"Yes, I know Phil Zimmermann recommends the circle. The idea is good. But there is a big BUT. The servers are located in the United States. The company is based in and so has physical ties to the United States and has to follow the laws. Even though the encryption keys are stored on the user devices themselve and no logs, no data, is stored on CS servers, a national security letter or something equal or worse could lead to possible potential security risk. That said I would strongly recommend CS to get rid of the ties to the United States, to move the servers inside the european union and - for a trustworthy relationship - to make the source code an open source that everyone can check on his own. Heck, I would love to use CS, but it´s always the same - US companies, US located and in the worst case bound to US laws to the last bit." :/


Posted by:

MmeMoxie
03 Mar 2014

@TheRube ... Open source coding is not always ideal.
Sorry, but that is the real truth.

First of all, not all computer users are Geeks, who would know what to do and what not to do. Even though, I consider myself a Geek ... I still don't understand how to "change codes" or what to do when an open source code needs to be changed.

My personal experience with Open Source Coding is Foxfire and before that, Netscape!!! I know, Foxfire was built on Netscape. I honestly did NOT like it's interface or much about it, until Microsoft's Internet Explorer became so bloated, that it was hard to navigate. I got Foxfire and really enjoyed the ease of this programming.

Then, about 2 or so years ago, maybe less ... Foxfire decided to "change their updating" method and make it more like Chrome! Well, at first it was alright, then it started to "stop" some of my programs/add-ons, that I particularly liked!!! Then, I noticed that many of the Open Source developers, stopped updating their programs, simply because Foxfire was updating, way to fast, for them.

Another thing, that I absolutely HATE about Foxfire now ... It that Foxfire has totally disabled "Java-Script and Script", in general. How dare they??? I thought Open Source, meant just that ... Open Source??? To make a stance and decision for me, is not right either!!! There are way to many games, that need Java-Script and Script, to just play them. Plus, many, many websites still use both, to function.

I am totally aware, that Java Script and Script have many, many security issues ... That is why I have Avast! Internet Security program, to find these issues and alert me. I also, update my Java, frequently, usually when there is an update available.

Okay, TheRube ... That's my take on Open Source Coding. Please, I am not saying Open Source Coding is wrong or bad ... Just that it isn't necessarily the safest way, either. Love reading your insights. :)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Firefox has not disabled JavaScript. They did make a change to the default settings so that JAVA (completely different animal, despite the similar name) will not run automatically. But you can always turn JAVA on, for trusted sites. (See https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/how-allow-java-trusted-sites)


Posted by:

Marcus
05 Mar 2014

This is a welcome advancement despite it being hefty in price. What is stopping Silent Circle receiving a letter from the NSA like what happened to Lavabit's encrypted email service? Since Silent Circle is based in the United States it too can easily be required to provide back door access like what happened with Lavabit that forced the founder to close shop and even warn people to be weary of doing business with servers physically located in the USA or has ties to the USA. If Silent Circle receives such a request they are not allowed to even reveal the details of this request so customers would have no idea unless Mr. Zimmerman decided to do what the founder of Lavabit did and close down.


Posted by:

Kjay
07 Mar 2014

Hi Bob
Dont think I would buy this phone at the price for the specs.
Much of the privacy being offered can be achived with apps already available on the market both free and paid for (Especially if rooted device).

The optioal 'Out Circle' is no more than an expensive proxy server tunnel.

The price needs to be drastically dropped and/or a nuch better spec phone offered.


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