Blackphone: a privacy-oriented, high-end, unlocked phone


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So… who’s software runs the radio? Since that’s the giant gaping security hole in any secure phone effort? No offense meant but.


I’m interested in whether the sourcecode for the Blackphone stack will be free, open, auditable and transparent. If it is, I will certainly order one of these for myself

But how can you possibly know that the owners didn’t get pressured into secretly adding a back-door, like the NSA has done/tried to do with so many security companies?

Looking at the sourcecode and checking its hash is a nice way to feel good and pretend you know something about security, but it means nothing at all unless you build and install the OS from sourcecode yourself. You have no idea what’s actually on the phone.

Even if you install the OS yourself, that’s still completely meaningless, unless you can verify the additional firmware that’s on every single chip in the phone.

A report just came out that the NSA was able to install radio-transmitting leaks into 100,000 computers, using a tiny chip embedded in a USB cable, to monitor communications of targets even on secure, unconnected computers. Compared to that, putting malicious code the antenna chip, say, is trivial. You can run the bootloader as many times as you like and you’re never going to touch that.

Didn’t you just write a column on how a false sense of security is worse than no security?

We’re in the age where you can literally make your own phone from off-the-shelf parts. If I were Snowden or someone else that the government was trying to track, why the hell would I want a black box (pun), even if they stick a few million lines of sourcecode up on GitHub?


What a laughable, poorly made, utterly cynical video. Who’s their target audience? Teens? Just praying on people’s fears, superficial understanding of privacy, and shallow need to be/look cool. Guaranteed, little of it, if anything, will be Open Source.

Smári McCarthy, founder and creator of MailPile, had a few pointed remarks about it last night on Twitter, such as …

“Privacy is not dark. It does not require a lack of photons. Privacy is not the opposite of transparency. Please get that through your heads.”

“‘chic’ for the types of people who attend CCC or Blackhat. Spooky 007 crap for Joe Public.”



Then I’ll consider buying it.

FYI, who’s != whose. :wink:

It’s real easy to test whether the phone has been compromised: just call a few buddies and rant about how you’re planning to commit a terrorist act in a week. If a week goes by and you don’t get busted, you know your phone is safe. (Unless the feds read this posting, in which case they might just call your bluff.)

This will work great until suddenly, one day the company shuts down. No explanation, no comments.
Remember Lavabit email? said something similar:

[There are] more than a few questions left to be answered about this phone and how it will be more secure. Even if Geeksphone and Silent Circle manage to create an OS that is more secure than anyone else right now, there’s still the baseband processor and the SIM card that are controlled by other organizations and often can’t be monitored by the OS.
While more secure is certainly better than not at all secure, Blackphone might be guilty of promising more than they can deliver.

I think it’s a privacy device, not an anti-government amulet or a supertool for evildoers.

It can’t protect you from governments, or from the corporations that own governments. They have MIB on the rooftops with parabolic mikes.

It isn’t of any interest to criminals. Criminals do not want to stick out of the crowd by using high levels of encryption or visibly fancy gear. They use disposable phones purchased with cash.

But it might prevent the Sun from printing transcripts of your phone conversation with the nanny on page one, and save you a nasty divorce settlement. And it will keep your neighbor from picking up your phone conversations with his hacked scanner or baby monitor and learning what bets you’ve placed with your bookie. Et cetera.


Assuming you’re in the USA, you could do this with any mobile phone right now, and expect the same results. The NSA is collecting metadata on all US calls (something that this phone will not prevent or spoof, since the data is collected on the telco side), and not recording the actual content of all calls.

What makes it secure is that the picture shows what it looks like on the front and back. It is a solid block of aluminum. As Robert Morris used to say, the three laws of computer security are, 1 don’t have a computer, 2 don’t turn it on, 3 don’t use it.

This is Phil Zimmerman and Jon Callas doing the crypto. They are good at it. I trust them. They wrote PGP.

The Lavabit scheme was just the latest in a very very long line of clueless crypto. We have a solution to the problem of securing email about once a week. The idea of webmail based secure email is not completely clueless, there are ways it can be done. But they require a lot of changes to HTML and the way Web browsers work to be viable. It would essentially be necessary to embed most of an email client in the Web Browser and partition it off from the rest of the browser.

sorry but yea the marketing approach is so ‘American’ - its all about style and buzzwords. Instead they should have presented a good phone and you know what - it’s also good at keeping your private stuff safe.

Regardless of how secure the email is, the real question posed by Lavabit is whether any service domiciled in the US is secure from National Security Letters. Bad crytography had nothing to do with why they closed shop.

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On the contrary. End to end encryption is secure against a National Security Letter unless the NSL is served on either the sender or the receiver.

The only problem has been that end-to-end email has been too hard to use until now.

This is the scheme I am currently working on. We currently have two competing standards for end to end email security, PGP and S/MIME. When I was Principal Scientist of VeriSign and Jon Callas was CTO of PGP we would periodically meet and discuss ways to see if our two companies could come together and break the logjam. We even came very close to doing something about it and then the spam crisis hit and so DKIM became the priority and it was the wrong time.

There are some papers out at the IETF but they are somewhat technical and assume the reader already understands PKI at a very high level. There is a set of podcasts in production that should be out soon which are designed as an introduction.

But briefly, the solution is to apply a technology called public key encryption in which Bob has a public key that is published in ‘some sort’ of directory and a private key that only Bob knows and nobody else. Knowledge of the public key allows anyone to encrypt a message but not to decrypt. Only the holder of the private key (Bob) can decrypt.

My theory of why we haven’t succeeded so far is that PGP and S/MIME are OK as far as usability goes but to succeed at Internet scale an application needed to be better than OK in the mid 90’s, it had to be good. Today an application has to be great.

We have to make it as easy to send mail encrypted as to send regular mail.

The reason the NSA is not going to interfere is that:

  1. They are going to be rather busy with internal disputes for a couple of years,
  2. Quite a few NSA insiders agree with me that the real national security problem the US faces is the threat of PRISM etc. level attack on US and NATO infrastructure,
  3. The Web has added about 5% to global GDP as a result of the security that we added, the politicians are likely to buy my argument that we might add another tenth of that if we secure the other Internet killer application. 0.5% of global GDP is about 400 billion or a billion dollars a day.
  4. The NSA needs this security more than anyone else.
  5. They tried harassment last time round and it didn’t work.

There is open source code up on sourceforge now. We are looking to have the system ready for alpha by the London IETF.

I do not claim that my system is the best one possible but I do claim that I have proof of concept. I have verified the design approach with numerous experts in the field and the very worst response was ‘I don’t see any reason it shouldn’t work right now’.

The testbed is written to allow other researchers to share it though. So anyone who has different ideas to mine (combine PGP, PKIX and Certificate Transparency approaches) they can use my platform as a testbed.

Until there is OSS radio firmware, this is silly

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For someone whose profession is in cryptography, it might help to have a basic understanding of the tools the government is deploying against you, but it’s clear you don’t understand what National Security Letters (NSLs) are. NSLs are not things typically used by the NSA (which doesn’t actually need them to perform their foreign-intelligence mandate, since amendments to the Patriot Act have ostensibly given them independent authority to them), but by the FBI. NSLs are not a component of PRISM. NSLs are about the collection of metadata, and not the actual contents of communications. Indeed, even if public key encryption is performed, metadata collection on emails would be unaffected (even if the contents were inaccessible), thus having no effect on NSL data collection. Furthermore, NSL gag orders would still be in effect, preventing the service from disclosing any monitoring.

In other news, OpenBSD need money to pay the power bill on their build servers in Canada.

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Right. Not recording the content. Uh-huh. Sure.

Perhaps more fundamentally, your cell phone Just Won’t Work unless it’s merrily chattering with the towers about (at least approximately) where it is, so that data coming to you get routed to the right towers and delivered and data coming from you get picked up and transferred to the backhaul.

There are, of course, many possible implementations that bleed far more data than the job requires; but short of technology indistinguishable from magic, a cellphone that’s connected to the network is a location tracking device, period.

Given the absolutely atrocious state of phone privacy, I suspect that their effort will be an improvement over baseline; but there’s only so much you can do when the fundamental building block of the system is a radio transmitter with a unique ID…

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