Many consumer electronics vendors are doubling down on their products’ security features and services in the wake of several high-profile breaches in recent months. Cyberattacks on supposedly tech-savvy organizations, like Sony and even the U.S. State Department, show the holes in current security standards. “It’s not too surprising that a lot of companies are becoming security-focused. Security and privacy have taken on a new meaning,” said IDC analyst Ramon Llamas.
And if you’re like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who wants to carry only one device, you might want to make doubly sure your device is highly secure.
Enter Silent Circle, which says its products and services, including its new Blackphone 2 smartphone, are not only secure but also private, so that even if the device is compromised, the users' data can't be read.
The Blackphone 2 is unassuming in terms of looks. It’s a lot like the original Blackphone, which launched last year. Under the hood, specifications are good, including a 5.5-inch full HD (1,920x1080 resolution) display, a 64-bit octa-core processor, 3GB of memory and a 3,060mAh battery. The device will sell for $629 when it debuts in July, to be sold globally through the Blackphone store.
At its premium price, the Blackphone 2 could have trouble capturing casual fans. The Switzerland-based Silent Circle markets its products and services more to business clients than to average consumers, though it expects to start attracting more people with its buttoned-down approach to security. Partners include telecoms like America Movil and Telecel in Latin America, KPN in the Netherlands and BigOn in the Middle East.
Silient Circle says there's a fundamental flaw in how some vendors have addressed security and privacy -- for instance, Apple, which develops the iOS operating system, and Google, with its Android OS, who had to deal with major fallout in the aftermath of recent breaches. Silent Circle sees privacy as what is exposed when security measures fail and software or devices are compromised. “It’s about what privacy enables as opposed to what you need to lock down and protect,” said Silent Circle Chief Marketing Officer Rob Smith.
The standout feature on the Blackphone 2 is its privacy-focused software. The device runs the custom, Android-based PrivatOS 1.1, which includes advanced administrator controls that allow users to lock or wipe devices for the sake of protecting data. Its Silent Suite software is encrypted on all fronts: messaging, video and voice calls and contacts. Encryption scrambles information on electronic devices so that it’s unreadable even if a device is compromised. Silent Circle apps include Silent Phone, Silent Text and Silent Contacts, which are available not only for the Blackphone 2 but also for other Android and iOS devices.
Android is notorious for its security shortcomings. It’s open-source and can be built upon by anyone, from major companies to amateur developers. Even Google Senior Vice President Sundar Pichai has said Android is designed to be open, not secure. For this reason, most companies buying software and devices for employees opt for Apple and BlackBerry products. “You can’t argue against its popularity, but a lot of businesses say, ‘We just really have some doubts about the security capability’ [on Android],” Llamas said.
Silent Circle is doing its part to make Android more secure and more attractive to business users -- which makes it a direct competitor to BlackBerry, a longtime primary supplier of hardware and software for business smartphone users.
BlackBerry devices accounted for about 20 percent of the smartphone market in 2009, according to the International Data Corp. That number dropped to a mere 0.5 percent in 2014, but BlackBerry has been revamping its image in recent months. The company has two new phones – the BlackBerry Passport and BlackBerry Classic – on the market as well as its BlackBerry 10 operating system and new software suites. BlackBerry has also made software deals with major companies like Samsung. “Rarely do you hear someone say, ‘Somebody hacked my BlackBerry.’ It’s still the gold standard for a lot of people out there,” Llamas said.
Though Silent Circle markets mostly to businesses, it could soon see competition from more consumer-focused brands like Apple and Microsoft, which are now making a play for enterprise clients. Llamas notes that businesses often trust Apple products over Android's, while Windows products continue to be the standard for many companies. Software including Office 365, Skype and Cortana are Microsoft staples that are becoming increasingly more useful to business.