Secure smartphones are becoming all the rage now that many consumers are viewing privacy as something that is no longer provided by most consumer electronics. Before and during Mobile World Congress 2014, the Blackphone and Boeing Black were announced, both of which use encryption to protect data
that is stored on the phone as well as information that is being transferred between devices.
A cheaper alternative has now been introduced by FreedomPop. Instead of coming out with a completely new device, the mobile service provider has modified the Samsung Galaxy SII to encrypt texts and phone calls. The modified SII, which FreedomPop informally calls the Snowden Phone, after former National Security Agency contract employee Edward Snowden, will retail for $189.
FreedomPop has announced the phone will feature 128-bit encryption, and while brute force attacks against encrypted data are not viable, documents released by Snowden and reported upon in 2013 have revealed that the NSA has backdoors into popular encryption standards.
For that reason, there is an ongoing debate among security experts as to whether 128-bit encryption is strong enough to be effective against the NSA. As the Snowden Phone is being released as an effective way to protect a person's communications from the NSA, it is important that the encryption used on the device be worthwhile.
AES encryption, which the Snowden Phone uses, is one of the most common forms of encryption, particularly because it was released in 2001. Although specific encryption standards have not been mentioned in the Snowden reports, a 2010 British spy document reportedly noted that "vast amounts of encrypted Internet data are now exploitable."
When dealing with non-government hackers, most experts agree that 128-bit encryption is fine. However, since the Snowden Phone is a response to the NSA's spying, protecting sensitive information with any consumer device may not be possible.
Snowden Phone vs. Blackphone
The primary difference between the Snowden Phone and the Blackphone is price. The Blackphone is just shy of the iPhone at $629 compared with the FreedomPop Galaxy SII, which will be available for $189.
Outside of price, the Blackphone is based entirely around encryption and security no matter what a person is doing on the device. In comparison, the modified Galaxy SII simply encrypts text and phone call traffic that is entering and leaving the device. As FreedomPop has decided to nickname its device the Snowden Phone, we would expect to see something that is NSA-proof, but even the more expensive Blackphone cannot guarantee that data will remain unexploited.
While any "secure" device that is released to the public cannot entirely protect data from the prying eyes of the NSA, the introduction of the Blackphone and Snowden Phone show that many consumers and businesses are taking privacy more seriously than ever before.