Silent Circle gets its first telco distributor, as KPN prepares to offer encrypted communications

Phil Zimmermann, co-founder Silent Circle & inventor of PGP. (Photo courtesy of Phil Zimmermann)

The Dutch telecoms giant KPN has partnered up with Silent Circle, the U.S. security firm that boasts privacy veterans Phil Zimmermann (pictured above) and Jon Callas among its founders, to offer encrypted voice and video calls, as well as secure messaging, to its customers across the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

Silent Circle was founded a few years ago by Zimmermann and Callas (who set up Pretty Good Privacy or PGP in the 1990s) and ex-Navy Seal Mike Janke. The company hit the headlines last year when it shut down its Silent Mail email service to protect users’ privacy, but its big products have always been encrypted voice, video and text communications for mobile and desktop.

The main advantages of these services are that no metadata is saved, and there’s no centralized repository for the encryption keys that can be legally or illegally accessed by law enforcement, intelligence agencies or other hackers. (This was the problem with Silent Mail — the usability of webmail suffers if users have to handle their own keys, and email leaks metadata by its nature.)

The customers for Silent Circle’s services, which amount to a super-secure Skype alternative, include Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and many other businesses and professionals that have to take security and confidentiality seriously. Now that user base may be set to grow quite dramatically.

As KPN said in a (Dutch) statement on Wednesday, it is the first telco to offer Silent Circle to its iOS and Android-toting customers, and indeed it has exclusivity on the product in the markets it serves.

Silent Phone and Silent Text will from June be offered in KPN’s Open Cloud Store, which largely caters to the telco’s business customers, at a monthly price of $9.95 or an annual price of $99.95, according to a PC World report.

This really is a big deal for Silent Circle, as its services can only encrypt communications between customers that have Silent Circle installed on their devices – the bigger the pool, the more usable the tool. KPN runs several brands in the Netherlands, as well as Base in Belgium and E-Plus in Germany. Silent Circle also recently inked a distribution deal with inTechnology for the Australian and New Zealand markets.

The next big step will be the launch of Blackphone, a thoroughly Silent Circle-ified handset that will be made by Spanish manufacturer Geeksphone. It’s also worth keeping an eye on Dark Mail, a replacement for Silent Mail that is being developed in collaboration with Lavabit, the other notable secure mail service to shutter its doors last year in the wake of the NSA scandal.

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