Now that we carry our lives on our smartphones, mobile security is more important than ever. Step up Silent Circle, and its new Blackphone handset, which gives you deeper control over what your phone gets up to…
Mobile security is so much more than simply setting up a PIN for unlocking your phone – although that’s one of the areas that receives the most attention from smartphone manufacturers, with big handsets such as Apple’s iPhone 5s and the new Samsung Galaxy S5 sporting fingerprint scanners, to make it even more difficult to break into someone’s handset. We’ve even seen iris scanners on tablets, while voice recognition is set to be big later in 2014.
But what about the way our apps send out personal info? And our phones openly connecting to Wi-Fi networks whenever we pass in range? There’s a lot going on beneath the surface of our smartphones, and Silent Circle is here to educate us and make sure we stay secure with its ominously-titled Blackphone.
What is the Blackphone?
The first rumblings of Silent Circle’s Blackphone came with the ‘NSA-proof’ tagline, something that appears to have been made up by the press: Silent Circle’s reps were keen to dispel any such rumours, stating in no uncertain terms that if the NSA was interested in tracking you, you’d have to bury yourself in a hole and shut off all comms to keep from prying eyes.
What the Blackphone can do is help to keep your confidentials safe from any have-a-go data thieves, whether it’s sat on your phone or stored up in the cloud. The Blackphone does this in two ways: with the PrivatOS interface, a custom version of Android that puts the emphasis firmly on security and gives you total control over your apps; and a two-year subscription to Silent Circle’s comprehensive software suite, including 5GB of securely encrypted cloud storage via SpiderOak.
Sadly, paranoid potential owners will also need to be reasonably well off, as the Blackphone will cost a rather eye-watering $629 US (not available via contract) when it hits stores in June-July time. The specs themselves are nothing special (4.7-inch HD screen, >2GHz quad-core processor, 8-megapixel camera and 16GB of storage), but you’re really paying for that software, which costs a whopping $840 as a two-year standalone purchase.
So, why is the Blackphone so secure, and does it really work?
Why is the Blackphone secure?
The Blackphone rams security down your throat from the moment you turn it on and begin to set it up. While most phones don’t bother to prompt you to set up a PIN code, instead simply letting you get around to it whenever you can be bothered, the Blackphone makes you enter a PIN or passcode immediately.
At no point during the setup process is any of your personal data transmitted in an unprotected form: everything is encrypted, to keep any shady sources from intercepting the info. It’s a well-thought-out and secure process, and just the tip of the Blackphone iceberg.
The real magic begins once you get into SecurOS, and see how much control you have over your apps. You can see exactly which apps have access to your info, including anything that’s able to text or call, and can manage those apps either individually or collectively by shutting off their Wi-Fi and contacts privileges.
Everything you do on the Blackphone, including placing voice and video calls, texting, transferring files and browing the web, is completely secure – providing you don’t login to third-party sites, of course. As Silent Circle points out, ‘prudence is still required on the part of the user’.
And if the worst happens and you drunkenly leave your phone on a train, you have the ability to remotely wipe it. Phew.
So, is data theft something you’re genuinely worried about, and could the Blackphone be the ultimate solution? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Check out all of our MWC 2014 news and hands-on reviews in our MWC 2014 hub