A few months back, I wrote about Silent Circle, an online service run by former Navy SEAL commando Mike Janke, PGP creator Phil Zimmermann and Jon Callas, who created Apple’s disk-encryption system. Silent Circle promises secure end-to-end communication among smartphone users. The service is aimed at individuals and organizations that require industrial-grade security without having to pay an arm and a leg. Target clients include law enforcement agencies, media organizations and even human rights groups.
The company has now announced the launch of an encrypted data-transfer service, meant as a secure means of exchanging files, photos, messages and other data. The “surveillance-proof smartphone app” allows users to send files of up to 60 megabytes through the “Silent Text” application, and the data can be set to “burn” or be deleted from both devices after a pre-set period. The app, along with the Silent Circle voice service, is aimed at bringing encryption to the masses. It does not require sophisticated knowledge of encryption keys and rings and codes. It just plain works.
“It’s going to revolutionize the ease of privacy and security,” said Silent Circle CEO Mike Janke, who says the app has actually been tested in the field, with human rights reporters in Sudan, Jordan and Afghanistan in sending photos, recordings and PDFs in a secure manner. The aim here is to prevent the data from getting into the wrong hands, and possibly incriminating the one who sent or received it. As an example, reporters in South Sudan were able to take a video of brutalities that occurred at a vehicle checkpoint. Said video was promptly sent back to their offices in Europe, and thereafter quickly deleted.
There’s a downside to such a secure app, though. While Silent Circle cites government agencies as among its clientele, there’s no saying how bad the impact of the app would be if it is used by groups and people from the other side of the legal specturm. While the primary objective of Silent Circle and Silent Text would be to provide security against surveillance, this can also be used by criminal groups in protecting their communications. Therefore, while police organizations would usually use messages, timestamps and call histories as forensic evidence in investigating crimes, Silent Circle ad Silent Text would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to trace these.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation wants to have backdoors to such systems, but Silent Circle is adamant at enforcing its policy against complying with eavesdropping requests. Janke says that potential criminal use is likely to be minimal, and that “the advantages are far outweighing the small ‘one percent’ bad-intent user cases.” Janke stresses that citizens have the right “to send data without fear of it being grabbed out of the air and used by criminals, stored by governments, and aggregated by companies that sell it.”
Is the $20 monthly service fee worth it, if you can protect your communications from prying eyes and potential dangers? This seems like an app that security buffs would find useful. It’s like Snapchat, but more secure!
Silent Text will launch on the iOS platform for iPhones and iPads tomorrow, February 8th. An Android app is in the works, and is “coming soon.” Android currently supports the current Silent Phone encrypted voice and video calling app, which is available for download from the Google Play Store.