If you happen to be an Mi5 agent or a once NSA eavesdropped president, you might be aware of the Blackphone. The so called un-hackable phone; an untraceable handset that’s supposed to be NSA-proof, putting privacy back in the hands of the user.
But what is it? Will Mi5 spies and the security paranoid be queuing round the bend for this super-safe phone, or is the term ‘un-hackable’ a little optimistic for a smartphone in the modern world?
Blackphone is the first privacy-focused smartphone created as a response to the widespread NSA spying allegations and global surveillance impositions.
Developed by two companies, Silent Circle and Geeksphone, the Blackphone is a smartphone designed to provide a higher level of encryption for phone calls, emails, texts, and internet browsing.
As you can imagine with a privacy focused smartphone, the manufacturers aren’t singing exact specification from the rooftop, but they have announced many of the features.
The core of the Blackphone suite is the pre-installed privacy and security software, there to protect your identity and conceal your actions.
The majority of security leaks with a standard Android smartphone don’t actually come from calls or texts (unless you are a spy). The leaks tend to be sprung from third-party apps, which can be infiltrated and used to store/access your data.
Blackphone gives users more insight into what third-party applications want with your data. Using the Security centre, users can chose what conditions or permission to accept and amend; unlike with other major platforms where you pretty much sign your soul away in one swift swathe to use Facebook
For the NSA eaves-dropped presidents out there, Blackphone has a subscription to the Silent Circle suite of applications: Silent Phone, Silent Text, and Silent Contacts.
Silent Circle uses end-to-end coded transmissions on their secure network, meaning your interactions are protected from prying eyes and sneaky eavesdroppers attempting to listen in on your calls and texts. Before any text or phone call is sent, the Blackphone will basically encrypt every detail – as long as the recipient is part of Silent Circle.
The Blackphone also has an anonymous search function like DuckDuckGo, private browsing, and VPN from Disconnect;
The phone also comes with super-secure cloud file storage from SpiderOak- 5GB of supposedly “zero-knowledge encrypted data backup”.
Un-hackable or just really secure?
Although an incredibly secure platform compared to a standard mobile phone, the Blackphone is not completely un-hackable. There are theoretically ways in, but more precautions have been taken with the device to stop unwanted intruders.
The Blackphone is not designed to be an impregnable safe at all. Although its standard security features are very much enhanced, the device is there to alert users as to what danger/privacy breaches are out there. It’s then the user’s choice if he/she continues with the process.
Blackphone uses a mixture of their own secure applications and clear notifications to alert the user as to what possible security breaches there are on the phone.
Choose your privacy
Blackphone isn’t the first encrypted phone to hit the market. There have been other attempts at security conscious smartphones, however they have almost all failed when it comes to popularity with consumers. People apparently don’t really care enough to have a fully encrypted service.
Blackphone have tried to work on these previous market failures giving the user more a choice when it comes to encryption.
Naturally not all communication needs to be secure so the Blackphone gives the user the chance to choose the level of privacy for each communication. The idea is that a call to order your pizza may not be as sensitive as an intergovernmental conference call.
Many people may be a little surprised to hear that the Blackphone uses the Android OS, although widespread, the Android platform is often perceived as a one of the more insecure mobile operating systems due to its open source nature.
However the experts at Silent circle have made a number of changes and adjustments to boot up the Android security- The “new” operating system has been renamed “PrivatOS.”
Design and Cost
Let’s put it out there straight away, Blackphone is not cheap. The privacy conscious amongst you will have to fork out $629 to buy the handset, simfree from the company itself. However your £375+ will get you 2 years free subscription to Silent Circle, Disconnect and SpiderOak, which is supposedly worth and extra $250.
As for the design and features, the Blackphone is a pretty ordinary looking smartphone, especially for something in the iPhone/Galaxy price range. It has a 4.7 inch HD IPS display, 2GHz quad-core processor, 16GB storage and an 8-megapixel camera. Not bad spec, but not top of the range.
Remote Wipe & Protect– Gives the users the ability to control or wipe your data from anywhere in the world, If your phone is compromised
Secure Search & Browsing– Secure search and internet use, so agencies can’t see what government secrets you’ve been searching
Secure File Transfer & Storage– 5GB of secure file backup, for the most sensitive tactical files.
Secure Voice, Video & Text– The Silent Circle suite allows users (using the same service) to speak securely on a closed line.
Blackphone Security Centre– Gives you complete control over the flow of data to and from the applications and services on your device.
Compatible with any GSM Carrier– No contract obligations, Blackphone is yours to use, configure, and modify at will