Secure smartphones are nice, but not enough

Everybody talks about smartphone security. But who's going to do something about it?

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The target market is government agencies and contractors who work with those agencies.

The Black phone will reportedly be "sealed." If the physical handset case is pried open, the phone will erase all of the data it holds. It will, essentially, self-destruct.

Boeing's Black smartphone
The Android-based Boeing Black smartphone is being marketed to government agencies and contractors. (Photo: Boeing)

It will also have two SIM card slots: one for regular public mobile networks and another for private government networks. When the phone is connected to a public network, its security features lock everything down so no data can be accessed. In order to gain access to certain information, the user has to disconnect the phone from the public network and connect to the private one.

Why Black is the new black

A smartphone that protects against intrusion, surveillance and hacking sounds like a good idea. But in the short term, at least, hardly anyone is likely to buy a phone like that.

Why not? For starters, hardly any carrier will sell the Geeksphone Blackphone. One of the Blackphone's security features is a stipulation that carriers who sell it are not allowed to install any software on the phone, and that makes it less appealing for them. The Dutch telecom KPN announced that it will sell the Geeksphone Blackphone starting in June in three European countries, but so far no other carrier has announced that it will sell it.

The Boeing Black phone won't be for sale to the public or to individuals at all. It will be purchased by government agencies and distributed by them.

Smartphones are insecure. But the Geeksphone Blackphone and the Boeing Black phone, as useful as they'll be to a tiny number of users, aren't going to solve the larger problem. It's unlikely that they'll account for anywhere close to even 1% of the total smartphone market anytime soon.

What we need is for regular, everyday smartphones to get better security. Consumers also need to care enough about security to seek out both more-secure phones and apps that provide better security. I just don't see either happening anytime soon.

This article, "Secure Smartphones Are Nice, But Not Enough," was originally published on Computerworld.com.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. You can contact Mike and learn more about him on Google+. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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