Blackphone, Boeing Self-Destructing Phone Are Security Motivated

The NSA's intrusive practices have encouraged a market of devices that go further to ensure data security and users' privacy. 

NSA revelations of the last few months have prompted new thinking about mobile-device security. (If content from the phone of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel can be intercepted, what hope is there for yours?) Two of the more dramatic examples of this are the Blackphone, from Silent Circle and Geeksphone, which became available for preorder Feb. 21, and the Boeing Black smartphone.

Boeing, introducing its device this week, said the U.S. defense and security communities require trusted access to data, and that current commercial devices "are not designed from inception with the security and flexibility needed to match their evolving mission and enterprise environment."

Boeing's solution offers a combination of "embedded hardware security features, software policy configurability and physical modularity."

According to documents Boeing filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the phone can also self-destruct if it's tampered with, PC Mag reported Feb 27.

"Any attempted servicing or replacing of parts would destroy the product," Boeing states in the paperwork, according to the report. It adds that even opening the device casing "would trigger a sort of self-destruct function that deletes all saved data and software and makes the handset inoperable."

The Boeing Black runs Android, features a 4.3-inch qHD (540 by 960) display, supports dual SIM cards, has micro-USB, PDMI (portable media and digital interface) and modular 24-pin connector ports, and includes embedded FIPS 140-2 key storage, configurable inhibit controls and support for trusted modules.

Central to the device's secure nature, says Boeing, is PureSecure, an architectural foundation "built upon layers of trust from embedded hardware, operating system policy controls and compatibility with leading mobile-device management systems."

Boeing Black faces competition—if also a marketing tangle—with the Blackphone.

"Technology was supposed to make our lives better," says a voice-over in an introductory video to Blackphone, over footage of security cameras and phone users tied to their IP addresses. "Instead, we have lost our privacy. We have become enslaved."

"The number one priority in creating Blackphone," Phil Zimmermann, president of Silent Circle and a co-founder of Blackphone, said in the video, "is to uphold the objectives of privacy. It's not to serve some other business model, of monetizing customer data. What we're trying to do is make a smartphone whose whole purpose is to protect users' privacy."

Blackphone is built on Android and features a 4.7-inch HD In-Plane Switching (IPS) display, Long Term Evolution (LTE) and Evolved High Speed Packet Access (HSPA+) connectivity, a 2GHz quad-core processor and what the company said are a "unique combination of application tools which offer unparalleled security and privacy to information workers, executives, public figures [and] anyone else unwilling to cede ownership of their privacy to other authorities."

The phone ships, unlocked, with a suite of privacy-gear apps from Silent Circle, a VPN from Disconnect, secure cloud file storage from SpiderOak, a Smart WiFi Manager and a remote-wipe and device recovery tool.

It can now be pre-ordered for $629 directly through Blackphone or one of several European carrier partners, the inaugural one of which will be KPN Mobile. Two-year service subscriptions and a "friends and family" subscription for a Silent Circle suite are also offered, ensuring Blackphone customers "will be able to speak securely with trusted friends and family with Apple or Android phones," the company said in a statement.

A less expensive and lower-tech alternative for those looking for a bit more privacy is a SIM card from T-Mobile MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) Ready SIM. The company markets its product as the "James Bond of SIM cards," since calls can't be traced to a person or organization.

If that sounds nefarious, CEO Emir Aboulhosn suggests the opposite is rather more so.

"We don't take any information because we don't need it," he told eWEEK.

Offering the example of a pay phone, he added, "You pop in a quarter and make a call. Your name doesn't have to be attached to a phone call. It can be that simple."

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