We’ve heard quite a bit about the new “Blackphone” which promises to keep your contacts and conversations secure — as long as you’re talking to someone else who is using the same security setup. It’s a great concept, but it has yet to hit a point of critical mass where not only is the phone is generally accepted, but the services are actively sought after by a large segment of the general public.
That point, I suspect, isn’t too far into the future. Black phones will become more popular, and possibly even a “killer app” before to long.
When talking about black phones which secure conversations from prying eyes and ears, you might view the phrase “killer app” in the wrong context. In the computer world, a killer app is an application, program, feature, or function that makes the platform on which it runs more desirable over a similar platform that doesn’t include a similar feature.
VisiCalc, a spreadsheet application for the Apple II series, was arguably the first “killer app”. If you wanted to move you number crunching off paper books and onto the computer, you had to fork out US$100 for the software, plus an additional $2,000 for the computer on which to run it. In 1980, BYTE said “VisiCalc is the first program available on a microcomputer that has been responsible for sales of entire systems”. It took a full year before others caught up.
Other killer apps that you may have heard of include WordStar, the “most popular word processor during much of the 1980’s”; Lotus 1-2-3, another spreadsheet app; as access to the Internet picked up, some even considered email as a killer app, even though it was a feature rather than one specific program. The phrase “killer app” was further popularized when Bill Gates was questioned in the United States v. Microsoft antitrust suit. Gates had written an email in which he described Internet Explorer as a killer app, which he said meant “a popular application”, but did not imply an application that would fuel product sales.
I’m officially going on the record with a prediction here, so take note: secure communications is going to be the killer app for smartphones.
Regardless of the OS, regardless of the device manufacturer, as more people wake up to the fact that their governments (and probably others) are spying on them, they’re going to want a secure platform that’s immune for the repeated breaches of privacy that occur every day.
All this starts with a secure platform. The file system as well as individual apps must be private and locked down from unauthorized attempts to gather data. The former can be achieved on the Android platform today, but apps are still problematic on all platforms.
Next, is the most important part: communications. These can be broken down into email, audio and video, payments, text messaging, and file transfers. To secure most of these, Silent Circle offers its services, though they’re not cheap — and they don’t include secure email or payments. Additionally, everyone with whom you want to securely communicate must have the same apps and paid subscription.
Tin Foil Hats
There was a time, not too long ago, that people would call folks names and pigeonhole them as “nuts” or members of a “tin foil hat society” if they even inferred that someone (the government, the police, their employer, hackers, or anyone else) was “listening in on” their conversations or tracking their everyday movements.
Today we know that the NSA, DoD, and other government agencies with three-letter acronyms are, in fact, monitoring our phone calls, tracking our locations, reading our emails, and keeping tabs on our Internet use. Not only that, but the US agencies have been working with several foreign intelligence and law enforcement agencies as well. It’s not just a US problem.
Why are they doing it? Are they tracking down specific threats? N0! They’re monitoring everyone, “just in case”.
It’s not the plot for a new movie. It’s not the synopsis for an upcoming Clancy novel. It’s actually happening, and even the mainstream media is reporting it.
As more people learn about what’s being done, they’re getting fed up with it. Law-makers seem uninterested in doing anything to protect our privacy, so entrepreneurs are picking up the torch and providing security measures for us.
Right now there is only one “Blackphone” on the market, but it’s backed by some services that will run on any Android or iOS device. We still need to better secure email and a few other items, but the solutions are coming. The big hangups today are the cost of entry — $99.95/year for Silent Circle — and the difficulty to set everything up. As more devices hit the market with an emphasis on security, the adoption of secure communications will snowball, drawing in more people as the concept spreads.
As more devices become available, more will see “privacy” as the next “killer app”, making so called “black phones” the future of mobile devices.