Blackphone came out in early 2014, promising its super-secure version of Android dubbed PrivatOS would allow users to perform encrypted calls, send secure files, and browse the internet relatively unwatched. The device, which was developed by enterprise privacy company Silent Circle, was seen as the answer to many Android users’ security qualms. The second version of the device, Blackphone 2, is now available to users — a small but cautious group of consumers who are looking for alternatives to more popular smartphone operating systems, which have been widely criticized for being easily hackable.
The phone’s operating system is designed specifically to address the holes in Android that have some users worried about their vulnerabilities. A writer over at Forbes praises the device, saying it “mixes security, privacy and usability to a level that I’ve never seen before. Its creators have succeeded in their mission: to build a phone that provides real protection and is actually enjoyable to use. It’s slick and smart, whilst not overwhelming with its many security mechanisms. But there is a serious price to pay for all that…” Indeed, the price point — $800 — has many potential users concerned.
Blackphone is one of a few encrypted devices that have emerged over the last couple of years — notably since the Snowden leaks. Boeing and FreedomPop are also designing and/or have launched “super” secure mobile devices.
These encrypted devices will be interesting to watch, particularly in light of what panelists at the cyber security panel had to say last week at the Blouin Creative Leadership Summit. The discussion among several esteemed security and privacy workers in technology fields focused on how hackers can access people’s private information, despite security measures like passwords. Dr. David Thaw, assistant professor of Law and Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, stated that the password isn’t the problem; it is the input system that handles the password that is flawed.
Blackphone takes a specific approach to passwords and encryption. It views the process of a user trying to encrypt smartphone memory with a password to avoid it being read by external agents as daunting and complicated. But Silent Circle asks: “So what if the disk was encrypted prior to being shipped, and users just needed to set a screenlock pin that would automatically become their decryption pin as well during setup? This is how Blackphone 2 full disk encryption works. The step takes 5 seconds and is completely transparent, which gives users encrypted storage by default, without needing to take any extra action.”
These devices may augur a new era of personal security — if only they weren’t so expensive.