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.
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.
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.