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Summary:

The app, which promises to protect voice communications, is part of a slew of new security products being pitched to privacy-conscious businesses in Europe.

mobile security
photo: Maksim Kabakou/Shutterstock

The company that handles the security of the so-called “Merkel phone” – the customized BlackBerry that the German chancellor and other members of her administration have recently started using – is now making a push to offer secure services to normal companies.

At the Cebit tech show in Hanover, Germany, Secusmart announced a deal with mobile carrier Vodafone to offer an app called Secure Call, which supposedly does what it says on the tin. In the words of Vodafone Deutschland CEO Jens Schulte-Bockum, “Secure Call is an effective weapon against phone tapping for people who want to protect their intellectual property.”

Additionally, Secusmart said it would try selling the Merkel phone more widely. This actually entails several BlackBerry models (Merkel uses the Z10), with the encryption and secure storage coming from a special microSD card.

Security first

The NSA bugging of Merkel’s communications was one of the biggest political scandals to come out of Edward Snowden’s revelations. At the time of the tapping, the chancellor was using an old and relatively low-tech Nokia, and the surveillance appears to have stopped when she switched to the new device (funnily enough, this was around the time that the Snowden leaks dropped.)

The Merkel phone, however, costs €2,000 ($2,800). Secure Call will reportedly cost around €10 per user per month, and it will support more platforms – Android first, then iOS and Windows Phone. It will initially only be available in Germany.

Vodafone also boosted its “Secure SIM” card offering at the show, announcing a new version developed alongside security firm G&D. This SIM card provides easy-to-use authentication for encrypted email, VPN sessions and so on.

New trend

Meanwhile Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone’s biggest rival in Germany, is also expected to unveil an app for secure voice and SMS communications at Cebit. This is again part of a wider push to get people using encryption more often, in the wake of the Snowden revelations.

KPN, the Dutch telco that runs the E-Plus and Base brands in Germany, is also targeting the privacy-conscious by reselling Silent Circle’s secure communications services. These services are also bundled alongside others in the Blackphone, an Android-derived collaboration between Silent Circle and Spanish manufacturer Geeksphone that should turn up shortly at a price of $629.

I think it’s fair to say the big European carriers have perceived a great deal of demand for enhanced security, particularly from the business crowd. China’s long been known to engage in industrial espionage and Snowden has suggested there’s a similar element at play in NSA and GCHQ surveillance , so it’s not hard to see why these companies are looking for added safeguards.

  1. i would not trust an app alone since its still possible for hardware to be compromised to directly tap into the analog audio stream connecting the speak and mic, or to log keystrokes.

    also how could we be sure these security companies are not honeypots for the intelligence agencies. the only thing i would trust is a do it myself solution using open source software – nothing at all form a commercial vendor.

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    1. Point taken on the value of open source, but commercial and open source can play together nicely.

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  2. I have been in the open source community for many years now, and there seems to be a lot of confusion or misinformation in respect to open source and security – open source does not mean secure. However, is open source a good thing, yes, and is open source capable of being secure, yes (well some may argue on that point). Open source is also able to be hacked and can be insecure. On using an app vs using a device, good point except that even with a device if you call another, non-secured, device, your call can be listened in on as it is not secured end-to-end. Hence, the benefit of an app to app call. However, if the device is bugged, well, not much you can do about that. In fact, if you are really paranoid, you would only carry on conversations inside an underground cement bunker, no windows, no electronics, and face to face – not even sure if that would do the trick. In my case, I looked and looked for a long time for an open source or commercial secure app, giving me text, voice, video and file sharing across devices – yes, mobiles and laptops since that is how I communicate with my friends. In the end, I found SecureHaze, which does the trick. Yes, both people need to have the app. No it is not open source yet – although they tell me they are looking to open source later in the year. In any case, I don’t need a specific mobile operators mobile, I don’t need a specific mobile device, all I need is a secure app – securehaze does it for me.

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