Blackphone Promises To Keep NSA Off The Line

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The Blackphone, brainchild of the Silent Circle and Geeksphone, aims to give people truly secure communications, capitalizing on concerns about National Security Agency spying, reports Stan Schroeder for Mashable.

Blackphone will be a high-end smartphone

“Blackphone provides users with everything they need to ensure privacy and control of their communications, along with all the other high-end smartphone features they have come to expect,” said Phil Zimmermann, inventor of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP, a well-respected encryption standard) and one of the project’s backers.

Zimmerman definitely knows what he’s talking about, but even so these goals don’t co-exist easily. If people can install any app they want, they can unwittingly introduce security weaknesses into their system. And that assumes the Blackphone is even secure out of the package. BlackBerry didn’t build a reputation for security because Apple and Google didn’t care about encryption – it’s actually difficult to pull off. (It’s also interesting that the name Blackphone sounds similar to the most secure phone on the market.)

Cryptanalysis always gets better

Other methods that were meant to ensure privacy, such as TOR’s onion network, have been attacked and compromised by the NSA, demonstrating that securing a system from attack is no straightforward matter. Even if the principles are sound, there are a host of errors in implementation that can let people bypass your security entirely. And it’s not enough to protect from the types of attacks you’re aware of, you have to build a system that can withstand cryptanalytic advances, and as the NSA likes to say, “Cryptanalysis always gets better. It never gets worse.”

Blackphone uses an operating system called PrivatOS, based on Android that is meant to enable secure communications, though possibly only between two Blackphone users. There are still lots of questions about the phones specs and how it ensures privacy, but people who are interested in buying one still have some time to wait. We’ll get our first real look at the Blackphone at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month, and there is currently no release date (we’ll likely find out then). And even then, you might want to wait for the crypto community to turn the thing inside out a few times before you trust its claims to protect you completely from eavesdropping.

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