Communications encryption company gears up for Hong Kong launch

Geneva-based Silent Circle aims to replace BlackBerry as the top provider of secure systems for mobile enterprise workers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 November, 2015, 9:24pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 5:57pm

Silent Circle, a Geneva-based communications encryption company, aims to move closer to replacing BlackBerry as the top provider of secure systems for mobile enterprise workers with the launch of its new device in Hong Kong through partner HKT.

Leading the way for Silent Circle in the market is its Blackphone 2, the new model of the world’s first smartphone specifically designed to deliver privacy and security, which has been available from this month via HKT’s premium 1010 mobile service.

Blackphone 2 runs Silent OS, a version of Google’s Android operating system that is able to provide full encryption by default.

“We think we’ll pick up share from BlackBerry. We think there are some frustrated [Apple] iOS users out there, too,” Bill Conner, Silent Circle’s president and chief executive, said.

Privacy today is increasingly threatened by governments, businesses and individuals
Bill Conner, Silent Circle

He described the Blackphone 2 as “a game changer for the mobile sector” because it combines an operating system and a suite of applications “designed to keep your enterprise and personal information separate and private”.

Timing is apparently on the side of privately held Silent Circle as its international launch of the Blackphone 2 has come after Apple’s online App Store was hit in September by its first major security breach that likely exposed millions of users to malicious software.

Many Android devices, meanwhile, have been under siege from attacks by the so-called Stagefright bug, which performs arbitrary operations on the infected smartphone device.

“Privacy today is increasingly threatened by governments, businesses and individuals,” Conner said. “People and enterprises want to take back control of their privacy but too often they don’t know how, or they feel they must compromise too much.”

Blackphone 2, with a recommended price of US$799, represents the first component of Silent Circle’s Enterprise Privacy Platform, which is a cloud-based combination of software, services and devices that enable privacy at every level of business.

“Most of the Android [ecosystem] focus has been clearly on the consumer,” Conner said. “What we’re trying to do is take a leadership role for Android in the enterprise space.”

The first iteration of Blackphone was launched early last year by SGP Technologies amid much fanfare as the first smartphone with tools to counter unauthorised surveillance, commercial exploitation of activity data, and the loss of privacy. It was honoured by Time magazine as one of the “Best 25 Inventions of 2014”.

That model, which cost upwards of US$629, had pre-installed privacy tools, all of which are fully enabled for at least two years of usage.

Javier Aguera, the chief scientist at Silent Circle, said Hong Kong’s role as an international business centre and reputation as one of the more advanced mobile markets worldwide made it a prime target to introduce the new-generation Blackphone.

The new “Spaces” function provides users with the ability to build separate, secure environments for their critical business data, personal information and even social applications, such as WhatsApp, within Blackphone 2.

It comes pre-loaded with Silent Phone – Silent Circle’s private communications mobile app – that offers encrypted voice calls, teleconferencing and video conferencing, as well as secure text and file transfers.

By default, Blackphone 2 only allows installation of new apps from Silent Circle’s own app store and Google Play.

“Hong Kong has tight links with the financial sector, and we already have many financial institutions working with our solutions,” Aguera said. “It will be a very good hub for us [in Asia-Pacific] because it is a market that is very keen on innovation.”

According to IDC, global smartphone shipmentsthis year are expected to grow 10.4 per cent to 1.44 billion units.