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Anti-snoop Blackphone hits shelves in June: NOW we'll see how much you value privacy

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Interoperability

Calls between a Blackphone and a regular smart or feature phone are bound to leak phone call records (metadata) such as who called whom and when, Wysopal added.

"I think a challenge any secure phone has is still traffic analysis of then other phone numbers you call on the normal phone network," he concluded. "This phone won’t be able to interoperate with normal phones.”

But Weir-Jones refuted Wysopal's suggestion that the Blackphone can't interoperate with other phones, adding that secure calls can be made to users running the Silent Circle apps on Android or iPhones as well as to users of other Blackphones.

"Blackphone certainly can place regular GSM calls, or send regular SMS messages," Weir-Jones explained. "It does so like any other phone, without any of the privacy benefits, but it certainly can do it. So if you're ordering a pizza, or talking to Grandma, you have the ability to make that choice. It will also interoperate securely with any other phone running the Silent Circle apps on either Android or iOS, which means there are already vast numbers of handsets out in the world able to participate safely in the ecosystem. No other secure phone on the market today can make that claim," he concluded.

Will they pay? Maybe if being private becomes 'cool'...

Weir-Jones said the biggest test of the smartphone will be whether or not its target market is prepared to pay more for enhanced privacy than the technical shortcomings raised by Wysopal.

"In the end our challenge is not these technical sorts of objections, which are really more a function of a young and expanding market than inherent limitations, but instead the simple question of whether or not people will care," Weir-Jones explained. "In the US there is a separate economic issue, since users tend to buy phones subsidized by carriers when packaged with contract commitments, but setting that aside, we do believe we should be at the table for any customer who is thinking of buying an unlocked phone anyway.

"If we can make it fashionable to be private by default, and only public by choice, then I have every expectation we'll shift the conversation."

Blackphone is available for pre-order as an unlocked device with a starting price of $629. The smartphone also be available through selected partner carriers from launch, including KPN Mobile, the inaugural launch carrier for Blackphone in markets including including Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. It's scheduled to begin shipping to end users in June 2014.

The technology will undoubtedly attract plenty of bragging rights for cypherpunk types. However Stephen Bonner, a partner in KPMG’s Information Protection & Business Resilience team, argued that the Blackphone protected against threats that were out of the norm for ordinary users.

“Some of the threats these type of products aim to protect against aren't realistic for most users," Bonner said. "They might be a cool gadget for wannabe James Bonds but business users need to worry a lot more about the applications on their device and the end-to-end protections they have in place."

Instead of developing a high-end ultra-secure device it would be better for mobile security as a whole if manufacturers built better security controls into all devices, according to Bonner.

"Privacy shouldn’t be limited to a select few handsets for individuals who have something to hide; privacy should be default for all," Bonner argued. "The ability to keep data safe and secure without having to think about it should feature in all devices so that all calls, messages, files and browsing data is kept private. 'Blackphones' could be the start of a new trend for all phones becoming more secure." ®

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