Sign up to our newsletter
The latest security news direct to your inbox
Boeing’s Black Smartphone sounds like something out of spy fiction – the device, which can connect to satellites and secret government telecoms networks, will self-destruct if tampered with, deleting all data and rendering the device useless.
The 5.2-inch handset uses dual SIM cards to switch between government and public networks, and is built for encrypted calls, the company said. It can also run on solar power – its back panel is removable to add a variety of James Bond-esque gadgets, The Verge reports.
Tampering with the casing destroys the phone’s software – and all the data within it. Ars Technica quotes a letter to the Federal Communications Commission from Boeing’s legal counsel saying, ““Any attempt to break open the casing of the device would trigger functions that would delete the data and software contained within the device and make the device inoperable.
Boeing’s letter said, “Boeing’s Black phone will be sold primarily to government agencies and companies engaged in contractual activities with those agencies that are related to defense and homeland security. The device will be marketed and sold in a manner such that low-level technical and operational information about the product will not be provided to the general public.”
The device was unveiled on Wednesday by the defense and aerospace contractor, and some details were scant, to protect the government operatives and contractors likely to use it, news agency Reuters reported.
Boeing revealed some technical details about the device via an overview on its website, saying that, “Current devices are not designed from inception with the security and flexibility needed to match their evolving mission and enterprise environment.”
The phone uses an encrypted disk to store data, and a ‘Hardware Crypto Engine’ protects both data storage and transmitted data. The phone runs a version of Android. The components listed by Boeing are commercial-grade – but the site hints at further hardware within the tamper-resistant casing.
“The device’s hardware roots of trust and trusted boot ensure the device starts in a trusted state, enabling maximum security of data,” Boeing writes. “ Hardware media encryption and configurable inhibit controls are embedded to protect the device, its data, and the transmission of information, significantly reducing the risk of mission compromise due to data loss.”
Other companies aim to launch similar encrypted phones, with a view to markets outside of government. In an interview with We Live Security, Silent Circle’s Toby Weir Jones revealed details of the company’s Blackphone – an encrypted Android handset built to allow secure calls and exchange of data from any country.
Silent Circle was formed in 2011, has has launched messaging services for PCs and smartphone. Its founders include Phil Zimmerman, who created the widely used PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) standard. The company shut its encrypted email service to avoid handing records to the U.S. government, after rival service Lavabit was subpoenaed.
The company describes Blackphone as, “The world’s first smartphone placing privacy and control directly in the hands of its users.”
Speaking via email, Silent Circle’s Toby Weir-Jones said, “It’s obvious there is tremendous interest in the goals we’ve set for Blackphone, even though we have released so little concrete detail so far. Our focus is on the visible layers of the phone — the applications, the user interface of the operating system — and giving our customers the control necessary to exercise their right to privacy.”
Toby Weir-Jones said that Blackphone is aware that no device can be ‘spy-proof’, and that the gadget is a “first step”
Author Rob Waugh, We Live Security