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July 12, 2013updated 22 Sep 2016 10:55am

Security is a choice

Duncan MacRae meets with mobile phone encryption provider, Silent circle, and UK luxury handset producer, Vertu, to discuss the security of personal and corporate data.

By Duncan Macrae

The Private Dining Room in a secluded area of Scott’s Restaurant in uber chic Mayfair, London, offers diners the perfect combination of both privacy and luxury.

It is perhaps apt then that this was the venue of choice for an IT security conference between Silent Circle and Vertu – two companies that have attempted to marry these qualities perfectly in their recent collaboration.

Earlier this year, luxury UK phone maker, Vertu, partnered with secure communication provider Silent Circle to provide end-to-end voice and text encryption worthy of its designer product. Now, each £7,000 Android-based Vertu Ti comes with a 12-month Silent Circle encryption service as standard.

Commenting on the team-up, Mike Janke, CEO and co-founder of Silent Circle, is not one to mince his words.

"We have what I like to call a ‘no jackass rule’," he explains. "If we don’t like a company, we don’t want to work with them and don’t want to be a part of what they do.

"At Silent Circle, we put together an all-star team and gravitated towards Perry Oosting and Vertu. They have the same type of customers as us – people who place high value on security and luxury, at a business and personal level."

Perry Oosting, CEO, Vertu, is no jackass, and was delighted to work with Janke’s team. He explains: "We met with a lot of companies because we’re not specialists in security. We met with about 10 different companies and Silent Circle is the one that stands out.

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"The encryption is on the device and not on a server and, after talking to so many companies and taking at look at what Silent Circle do and what they can offer, we haven’t found anything anywhere else that comes close to that. And, because of that, we can now offer a unique customer service."

With the Silent Circle software, individuals can protect the likes of their text, file transfers, emails and conference calls.

Already benefitting from the Silent Circle encryption service are intelligence agencies, government departments, intelligence agencies, former heads of states, exiled leaders, Russian oligarchs, Persian sheiks and Hollywood celebrities. Even Prism whistlebower Edward Snowden has been offered a free subscription.

It is a service that may only be of genuine interest to the kind of customers Vertu attracts, but security is something everyone is taking far more seriously than ever before, according to Janke.

There is now, more than ever, a need for private individuals to secure life, he explains.

"And not just private individuals, you also have governments, seal teams, corporations – a whole host of people from all different walks of life that take privacy very seriously.

"On a business level, you now have employees bringing their own phones into the workplace. I hate the term BYOD (bring your own device). That’s just bubble gum, but nowadays everybody is basically walking around with a big computer in their pocket. And, it might have taken a while for people to catch on, but everyone is now finally aware.

"People are a lot more aware about security threats and it’s a constant worry for them. With all the threats you have to look out for these days and all the things you see and read about in the news, it’s like being beaten repeatedly with a bamboo stick – you’ve got the Chinese hacking story, social security problems. It’s taken us all a long time to wake up to the risks."

The risks are many and varied, and there are a lot of attack vectors, Janke points out. "Some of the main threat types we have to deal with now include malware, simple eavesdropping and apps that suck data.

"A while ago, my daughter really wanted an iPhone and I wiped my old iPhone3 and gave her that to use. At 12 years old, like most girls her age, all she’s interested in is Instagram and buying shoes online.

"She downloaded an app to the iPhone and, although I thought I had deleted everything from the phone, this app sucked up all the contacts that had been deleted and started contacting everyone, including all the contacts I had from my time working in the armed forces. For me, this was a huge deal and a massive wake up call. It was an incredulous, glass breaking moment. And I just thought: ‘This sucks!’"

The desire to secure private information should not be driven by fear, though, in Oosting’s opinion.
"I always believe it’s not about fear. It’s about choice. You have a freedom of privacy and you can protect that. What you choose to be private should be up to you."

Janke concurs, adding: "It’s absolutely all about what people choose as privacy. What is important to the individual? What details are they happy for anyone to know and what information do they want to remain secure? There are people who will put their most intimate details on Facebook for everyone to see but, when it comes to phone calls, those have to be secure. So, it’s all about having that freedom of being able to choose what you keep private."



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