August 14, 2012
Email Privacy Pioneer Launches Silent Circle To Protect Mobile, Internet Calls
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
An Internet privacy veteran and inventor of a popular email encryption scheme is launching a suite of new products next month that will allow people to scramble their mobile phone calls, e-mails, text messages and Internet voice and video calls.
Phil Zimmermann, creator of the standard email encryption known as PGP, which stands for ℠Pretty Good Privacy´, will roll out the private, encrypted communications tools on September 17 through his company, Silent Circle.
Silent Circle will be available on both Mac and Windows platforms, and will offer video and voice services to desktops, laptops and even business conference systems worldwide. Every high-definition video and voice call can be conducted via their encrypted VoIP which uses ZRTP, another Zimmerman invention. ZRTP uses session DH keys, SAS, key continuity, 256-bit AES and 3072-bit key exchange to keep all calls encrypted and secure.
The encryption works on a peer-to-peer basis, meaning it is best used on a private network with both parties within the system. The system will still work if only one person is within the network, but the message will only be scrambled as far as Silent Circle's servers. Subscription to the private network will cost $20 per month.
Once the software is downloaded, it generates a code that scrambles messages on that particular device. The code is used only once and then destroyed; meaning that even if someone steals a customer´s computer or other device and manages to break the code, messages will still be unreadable.
Silent Circle's chief operating officer, Vic Hyder, is one of two former Navy SEALs working with Zimmermann and PGP Corporation co-founder Jon Callas.
Hyder says one of the motivations for starting Silent Circle was giving members of the U.S. military stationed overseas a secure way to phone home.
"With 25 years in the Navy, I know all about that," he told CNN.
"It's very difficult to take care of your personal business."
Indeed, plenty of people, including hackers, marketing firms, corporate competitors and governments, are working to get their hands on our private data.
"We have a fashion designer who sends her designs to her production facility in China," Hyder said.
"Before the first template's come out, it's already been sold in Pakistan or Bangladesh."
Hyder said another Silent Circle customer, a bank in Canada, wants the software to offer secure lines to its clients, thereby limiting its liability should any account data disclosed over the phone make its way into the wrong hands.
Silent Circle chose to locate its servers in Canada because it believes the country has better privacy laws.
Governments throughout the world typically have regulations allowing them to monitor or collect certain private electronic communications.
Jonathan Evans, Director General of the British Security Service MI5, recently defended plans that would give the spy agency greater surveillance powers over Internet use, saying the expanded authority was needed to keep up with cyber-criminals and terrorists using new technologies.
But such growing government surveillance has raised concerns among privacy and civil liberties advocates, who are welcoming new products such as those offered by Silent Circle.
Eric King of London-based Privacy International said he expects Silent Circle´s new products to provide true security while being easy to use.
"Phil and his team have pedigree in this field, so this is probably good news for anyone that values their privacy -- from businessmen in London to human rights defenders in Syria," he told CNN, adding that he was awaiting independent reviews of Silent Circle´s offerings.
Zimmermann, who originally designed PGP in the 1990s as a human-rights tool, said he has always felt strongly about the right to private communications. Such systems should also be simple to use, he said, so that a user merely dials a number and no one else is able to listen in on the call.
"I should be able to whisper in your ear, even if your ear is a thousand miles away," he said in an advertising video for Silent Circle.
Hyder said interest in the company´s products has been broad, "from Hong Kong to Chile, from the Czech Republic to Uganda."
However, he expects some governments will have reservations about their citizens being able to keep their communications private.
"They would have to block the website -- but that would be good marketing for the service," he said, tongue-in-cheek.
While the worldwide launch of the Silent Circle´s service is still a month away, anyone interested can sign up for updates at https://silentcircle.com/.