The New Black

By on May 29, 2014 in Technology

The world is realizing more of the gadgetry from James Bond’s reality, and it’s about time. But we’re not talking about underwater jet packs or a BMW equipped with missiles. Secure phones that ensure secret-agent level privacy are in demand across consumer sectors.

They’re even being made by military contractors. Boeing has unveiled a secure smartphone that marks a unique departure for the Chicago-based aerospace and defense company, best known for making jetliners. In order to accomplish defense and security missions, security and flexibility are key factors, and their smartphone is primarily aimed at government agencies and contractors who need to keep their data secure.

Made in the United States after 36 months of development-stage, the Boeing Black Smartphone features a 4.3-inch qHD (540 x 960) pixels handset with dual SIM cards, to enable it to access multiple cell networks. The battery stops at 1590 mAh, and has Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR-enabled connectivity. It runs on Android OS and its key features include disk encryption designed to store sensitive information securely, hardware Root of Trust to ensure software authenticity, a Hardware Crypto Engine to protect stored and transmitted data, Emblackphonebedded Secure Components to enable trusted operations, Trusted Platform Modules to provide secure key storage, Secure Boot to maintain device image integrity, and “hardware modularity” for multiple modularity capabilities.

However, the central security feature of the Boeing Black is the PureSecure, an architectural foundation “built upon layers of trust from embedded hardware, operating system policy controls and compatibility with leading mobile-device management systems.” In addition to all these, the smartphone includes the ability to communicate via satellite transceivers and “discrete radio channels”, advanced location tracking and biometric sensors.

But what takes this mobile device to another level is that on top of the call encryption function, the Boeing Black Smartphone deletes all data and turns the device inoperable at any attempt to open its casing. It will be released this summer.

Another interesting release, presented at Mobile World Congress this year, is the Blackphone from Geeksphone and Silent Circle. The two companies worked together to build a security-focused device. Geeksphone founder and CEO, Javier Agüera, said that modifying some of the default behaviors of Android OS and improving security flaws found in the current version of Google’s operating system led to PrivatOS.

PrivatOS will ship in June at $629 and pre-orders are already being taken through their website. Updates on the OS will come directly from Blackphone, without any carrier to stand in the way. The presentation held in Barcelona includes Silent Phone and Silent Text for secure, encrypted telephony and messaging – using Silent Circle’s secure network; more precisely it follows the Apple example with iMessages so that only you and someone using a Blackphone or Silent Circle’s service on another device are privy to the contents of the message. The data on the phone is also secure if the device is lost, through the remote wipe feature that doesn’t require a third party service to get involved. Unlike others who offer this feature, not relying on a third party company with a cloud translates into the fact that no one, besides you, ever knows where your phone is – unless of course it is stolen.

For that scenario, one of the device’s appealing functions is the Disconnect, a secure/non-trackable search product that deploys a VPN to anonymize Internet browsing on the Blackphone, securing the Wi-Fi connection at the same time. If typically, VPN slows down a connection, Disconnect makes it go faster as it removes all advertising and tracking cookies.

However, the version presented at GSMA MWC is not the final one; in fact, the phone might get some additional features than those already announced: 2GHz quad-core SoC with 2GB RAM, 4.7’’ HD IPS and LTE connectivity, 802.11n Wi-Fi, 4.0 Bluetooth, 8MP front camera with flash and 16GB on board storage.

While plenty of regular people around the world may remain unwilling to pay higher prices for a locked-down phone, for many concerned with data and identity protection these devices are exciting news, delivering next-generation safety and privacy for those who value it.