Silent Circle Looks To Take On Skype, Offer More Security In Calls
July 10, 2014

Silent Circle Looks To Take On Skype, Offer More Security In Calls

Peter Suciu for - Your Universe Online

International phone calls can be expensive but in recent years Voice Over IP (VoIP) have offered an affordable alternative. The downside has been that these aren't exactly secure. Last October Microsoft-owned Skype was investigated by Luxembourg’s data protection commission over its alleged secret links to the National Security Agency (NSA), and the PRISM spy program.

Businesses seeking a more secure line could find a Skype alternative with secure communication firm Silent Circle, which is adding private, encrypted international calls without roaming charges to its Silent Phone service. Silent Circle is offering a new Out-Circle Calling international call plan starting at $12.95 for 100 minutes, and a $39.95 plan for 1000 minutes. Moreover, Silent Phone users can call one another for free – much the same as Skype users can do currently.

Silent Phone customers receive a personal, 10-digit phone number from one of 26 countries that can be used to receive calls when traveling. These calls can be received from anywhere in the world as well, and at the party's standard long-distance rate.

The Guardian newspaper reported on Thursday that Silent Circle will offer plans that cover landlines in 79 countries and 42 countries via mobile handsets. The firm claims this is four to five times more than the "non-secure competitors" such as Skype and Viber. These countries include China, Russia, most of Europe and the Americas – however, large parts of the Middle East and Africa are currently not covered.

In addition to working on landlines the secure voice-and-data calling plans are available for Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating system, with Windows Mobile OS coming later. Silent Circle is aimed at business users as a way to save employees tens of thousands of dollars a month on international roaming charges. However, users will still have to pay for a data plan if they opt to use Silent Phone over 3G or 4G networks instead of Wi-Fi.

"A customer can get a basic cheap data plan from any telco and use our encrypted calling plan for all 2G, 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi calling. Our price point, combined with a basic data plan is about 20-45 percent cheaper than telcos currently offer long distance," Silent Circle CEO Mike Janke told The Guardian. "Most European businessmen and women pay huge roaming fees when they travel around Europe and other parts of the world. Sometimes up to $1,400 per month. If you are a businessman in the UK with service from say, O2 mobile, just to call 100 minutes to Taiwan you will pay $17."

In addition to the potential savings, analysts have noted that the service also offers security benefits over Skype and other VoIP options. This could be appealing to international business travelers who need to discuss sensitive information – as well as journalists and even activists wishing to avoid unwanted listeners.

"What Silent Circle is offering is an augmented level of security beyond what normal phones can offer," Ben Wood, a senior analyst with mobile research firm CCS Insight, told Reuters news agency. "It captures the zeitgeist in terms of paranoia by answering the question of what more consumers can do to protect themselves."

Moreover, Silent Circle offers encrypted communication that can dispose of records of all calls, texts, messages or documents on both the senders' and receivers' devices. This so-called "burn" feature can be used to auto-delete sent messages and attachments at pre-set times.

The encryption is also provided through the company's so-called "bubble of encryption," which conceals the contents of a call as the data is transmitted to Silent Circle servers in Canada and Switzerland, before being sent out to public phone networks.

Wood warned that this isn't completely fail-safe, however.

"Any drug dealer, terrorist or pimp who thinks this sort of service will insulate them would have to be naïve," Wood added. "Nothing is bullet-proof in that regard."

Silent Circle was founded by security expert and former US Navy SEAL Mike Janke along with Internet encryption creator Phil Zimmermann and Jon Callas. Callas is the inventor of Apple's whole disk encryption system. The company began shipping its first mobile phone, known as the "Blackphone," last month. This encrypted handset is built around a customized version of the Android operating system known as PrivateOS, and it also features a suite of security and privacy apps from Silent Circle.