It’s no surprise that a new market for secure communications sprang up in the wake of the Edward Snowden leak: many people were shocked to learn the degree to which their e-mails and phone calls were being monitored, or had the potential to be monitored, by the government.
Companies such as Apple, Google, and even WhatsApp took steps to better secure their users’ communications -- from hackers as well as from governments -- and new companies formed to offer services that would be more shielded from electronic spying.
Perhaps the best-known of these new services is Blackphone, a privacy-focused smart phone running a version of Android called PrivatOS.
Blackphone, which costs $649 and has been shipping since June, uses special software to encrypt voice calls and text messages so they’re much harder to intercept and decypher -- and now that privacy will extend to apps as well. Blackphone announced on Tuesday that it will push out a software update in early 2015 that will add a curated app store to PrivatOS.
Only apps that meet the company’s security guidelines will be included in the store, so while users will have a fairly limited selection to choose from, they can also be confident that their communications will remain secure. This will likely be welcome news to anyone who’s ever downloaded malware or spyware from the Google Play store (memorably, one Android flashlight app silently collected user data, including location information, and sent it to advertisers). Blackphone chief executive Toby Weir-Jones told The Guardian that the company will play an active role in vetting apps before they’re included in the store, saying, “We’ll validate that the apps will do what they intend – call it the Apple model.”
The Blackphone update will also introduce Silent Spaces, a change to the way users’ data is handled. Silent Spaces will create separate “sandboxes” for work and personal use, keeping apps, personal information, and accounts in each sandbox separate from the other. Users can switch between Spaces without rebooting the phone, but apps in each Space cannot access the other Space. The change is meant to make things more secure for Blackphone users who use their handsets for, say, social networking as well as sending work e-mails.
Blackphone is currently marketing its handset to security-conscious business users, many of whom are abandoning their BlackBerry phones but still want to ensure that work communications remain secure. Blackphone encryption software is also available for iOS and Android devices, for those users who want to keep their texts safe but don’t want to go all-in with a new smart phone.