Blackphone 2 Review: A Slick But Very Expensive Prophylactic For Your Android …

28 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Blackphone 2 in a nutshell: specs, UK price and release date.

Blackphone 2, the new model of the world’s first smartphone specifically designed to deliver privacy and security, is available from today in selected markets around the world, including Hong Kong.– Phone built with Silent OS – featuring a personal Security Center to put users in control of application permissions and “Spaces”, which offers separate secure environments to protect and separate personal and business data.If you believe the government is spying on your calls, emails, and texts — or you work for the government, and are thus pretty much assured someone is spying on your calls, emails, and texts — then Silent Circle’s $799 Blackphone 2 is for you. This advanced 4G smartphone marks a big departure within the Android market as it eschews candy colours, emoji keyboards and fancy curved displays to focus on enterprise-class security. “Most of the Android [ecosystem] focus has been clearly on the consumer,” Bill Conner, the president and chief executive at Blackphone 2 maker Silent Circle, told the South China Morning Post. “What we’re trying to take a leadership role for Android is in the enterprise space.” Conner said Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea represent the initial markets in Asia where Silent Circle will push for Blackphone 2 enterprise deployments.

The original Blackphone from manufacturer Silent Circle, which was co-founded by an ex-Navy Seal, packed in lots of technically impressive privacy features to help keep users safe and secure. Launched last year as a joint venture between the secure communications service Silent Circle and the Spanish specialty phone manufacturer Geeksphone, Blackphone’s eponymous first product was an Android-based smartphone intended to provide the security and privacy that were lacking in Google’s mobile operating system. Conner said Blackphone 2 offers both enterprises and consumers the means “to take back control of their privacy” amid the current environment where it is often at risk. “Today our privacy is increasingly threatened by governments, businesses and individuals”, Conner said. “In addition, the growing number of companies where employees work on their own devices in and out of the office means that it is ever more vital to build smartphones that deliver on privacy.” With a recommended global retail price of US$799, the Blackphone 2 improves upon the critically lauded, first-generation Blackphone released early last year. So even if the spooks hiding in that black van parked down the street managed to isolate your call, they wouldn’t be able to decipher what you’re saying. The user can control and fine-tune the individual app permissions and the data the apps have access to, while ensuring they need not compromise on the device’s cutting edge smartPhone functionality.

All the data stored on the phone is also automatically encrypted, so if the forces of evil got ahold of your handset they’d have to know your password (or possibly torture it out of you) to get at your private information. It comes pre-loaded with Silent Phone – Silent Circle’s private communications mobile app – that offers encrypted voice calls, teleconferencing and video conferencing, as well as secure text and file transfers. Silent Circle—founded by Phil Zimmerman (creator of PGP), former Entrust chief technology officer John Calas (the man behind much of the security in Mac OS X and iOS), and former Navy SEAL and security entrepreneur Mike Janke—bought out Geeksphone and absorbed the joint venture. So one space could belong to your employer, running its corporate apps and storing your work data; another space could be dedicated to your personal apps and information; a third could be used when you travel to known hotbeds of cyberspying like China or Russia; a fourth could serve your secret life as a double agent in the employ of S.H.I.E.L.D. The company hired a new CEO (former Entrust CEO and Nortel president Bill Conner), renamed and rebuilt its Android-based operating system, upgraded the infrastructure of its encrypted voice and text communications network, and built an entirely new hardware platform based on a somewhat more industry-standard chipset.

You can also wipe the data from a single app – a feature Silent Circle calls “Brace for Impact.” The company even maintains its own tiny Silent Store, featuring about a dozen curated apps – like a private browser, a digital vault, apps for managing your Facebook posts, and so on — that pass its stringent security standards. Still, that extra screen space is good news if you want to stay productive on the move with office suites (or simply kick back with a cheeky movie on your lunch break). Today, Silent Circle begins shipping its new flagship (and only) handset; and Ars once again got early access to put it through the usability and security wringer. The device features the Snapdragon octa-core processor from Qualcomm, 3 gigabytes of random access memory, 32GB of internal storage, a removable Micro SD card slot to boost storage capacity up to 128GB, a 5.5-inch Gorilla Glass touch screen, and a 13-megapixel back camera and 5MP front camera. Each time you make a voice or video call, a unique key is generated and exchanged between your handset and the recipient’s on the Silent Circle network.

The announcement of its Enterprise Privacy Platform received PC Magazine’s ‘Best of Show’ award at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year. In the past, hostile governments have demanded access to the servers where the keys where kept in order to decrypt the calls and messages of private citizens.

In an interview in July, Silent Circle chief scientist Javier Aguera said Hong Kong’s role as an international business centre and reputation as one of the more advanced mobile markets worldwide made it a prime target for introducing the new-generation Blackphone. “Hong Kong has tight links with the financial sector, and we already have many financial institutions working with our solutions,” Aguera said. “It will be a very good hub for us [in Asia-Pacific] because it is a market that is very keen on innovation.” It is not about candy-colors, emoji keyboards, curved screens or ‘the next big thing’”, said Janke, “it’s about security, privacy and protecting your digital life, plain and simple. It’s hard not to be incredibly excited about BlackPhone 2 when you can literally hold privacy in your hands.” Ever wondered just how many permissions you are giving away when using some of your favorite apps? So it might not have a stylus, the fastest processor, or the most powerful graphics engine, but it will serviceably perform as a smartphone while not giving you up to surveillance.

We asked people to read some of these permissions out loud so we could capture their reactions: Silent Circle is a leader in enterprise privacy, delivered through a revolutionary platform of devices, software and services, built on its proprietary ZRTP technology, a fundamentally different, cloud-based, Mobile architecture. Because the phones are managed directly by Silent Circle, not wireless carriers, they’re also likely to be better protected against threats from cyber attacks and malware. Aside from all of that, it’s pretty much an ordinary Android phone running Lollipop, with a 5.5-inch HD screen, Gorilla Glass, a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front cam, 32GB of onboard storage, and a micro-SD slot for adding up to 128 GB more. If you use your secure phone to call an ordinary one, your communications could still be intercepted at the point where the conversation enters the normal phone network. There are 13- and 5-megapixel cameras back and front, 32 gigabytes of storage along with three gigabytes of RAM built in, and a 3,060 milliamp-hour battery that rivals the market leaders (scoring 612 minutes on our Web browsing battery life test; more complete battery testing is in progress).

Blackphone 2 now includes both the Google Play app store and Silent Circle’s own privacy-friendly Silent Store, the latter features apps such as the Ghostery browser, the SpiderOak encrypted file sharing service, and a social media privacy tool called Privately App. The previous version of the Blackphone OS (originally called PrivatOS) required owners to download updates and reflash the phone’s OS—not exactly the best security posture for a phone OS centered on security. Now both the core Silent Circle apps and the OS update via the cloud (though we did not get a chance to test such an update during the course of our review). The Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 Octa-core 1.7GHz ARM processor, used mostly in lower-cost smartphones, doesn’t fare well against similarly priced contemporaries in our usual benchmarks.

With a mix of Google integration, a tiny bit of Cyanogenmod (specifically, its File Manager), and some very deep security tweaks, Silent OS is by no means your standard Android. Each user space, which is an extension of Android’s multiuser mode, can be configured with its own lock screen PIN, password, or pattern, based on the desired level of additional security. When running from the primary “Owner” space, Security Center can configure defaults for the entire phone, including how the phone treats app installs (choices include “deny all,” “ask all,” or “allow all”). The “ask all” setting gives the user power over what permissions the app is allowed instead of doing a blanket acceptance of them. “Allow all” handles app installations much like normal Android, but you can still go back and kill individual permissions later.

This includes, through mobile device management, performing a wipe of a managed space if a phone is lost, an employee leaves the company, or situations dictate destruction of the data without user intervention. For example, the Uber app asks for permission to access just about everything in the phone, including location, contacts, the camera, the phone dialer, SMS messages, and settings.

In a hospital setting, for example, administrators could create a space that won’t connect to cellular networks and can only connect to Wi-Fi in specific locations, ensuring doctors don’t accidentally (or on purpose) expose medical records. That’s possible in part because of Silent OS’s Smart Wi-Fi Manager, an application developed by Blackphone’s chief architect Mike Kershaw (known in the security realm as the developer of the Kismet Wi-Fi auditing tool). From a security perspective, it can prevent phones from connecting to rogue access points that lurk looking for polling messages from phones with active Wi-Fi. Like Skype with Skype Number, the service can call both other service users and act as a voice-over-IP connection to the public switched phone network. Silent Phone can make two kinds of calls—fully-encrypted voice and video calls between users of the Silent Phone app, and “secured” calls between a normal switched network phone number and the Silent Phone app via the “Silent World” call bridging service.

When you configure Silent World for your Silent Phone account, it assigns a dial-able phone number to your account for the location of your choice (US numbers are free, while there are fees associated with some international numbers). That’s especially important if you’re making a phone call back home from overseas in a place where a potentially adversarial government or other organization could intercept it. Silent Circle provided Blackphones to reporters in Syria, for example, allowing them to call in stories from the field without their calls being intercepted. Once the call has started, the data is transmitted as encrypted UDP traffic directed through a cloud-negotiated SIP connection between the call participants if both are on Silent Circle. The texting portion of Silent Phone provides a functionality called “burn notice.” With this, you can set a time limit for a message to be available to the person you sent it to, after which the key for the message expires and the text or image is deleted.

It’s also possible to send location data as a text message, either to allow the person you’re messaging to find you or to verify you are where you say you are. The experience was better than our last go around with the service, though I experienced some bugs in sharing location from the Blackphone with other devices running the current iOS and Android apps.

Secure location sharing and secure calls to plain old telephone system numbers are the primary features in Silent Phone that you can’t get from lower cost or free alternatives. If you are among those for whom paranoia about surveillance or malware-based espionage is a major concern, or if you’re concerned about the leaking of information about your daily habits through the permissions granted by many smartphone applications, this may be your phone.

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