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Five Questions with Silent Circle

Silent Circle is a private encrypted communications service that is revolutionizing how the world communicates. The $20 monthly subscription service launches today and is built to encrypt email, voice, text and VOIP messages to and from your smart phone. Focus’ Dan Andrews talked to cofounder Michael Janke recently about the service.

1) Please explain to the average person what (is Silent Circle) and who might need it?

Silent Circle was formed to provide leading edge, exclusive, high-end encrypted communication products combined with a custom-made secure network to protect multiple sectors of the population including privacy-minded individuals, celebrities, school and universities, financial institutions, human rights groups and NGOs, oppressed citizens across the globe, military families, just to name a few. We do this by using peer-to-peer encryption so that the encryption is done on your mobile device and the session keys are destroyed after each call or text.

2) As a former Navy SEAL patience and waiting for the perfect time is critical to a successful mission. The release date has been pushed back. How important is it to get everything right the first time? Also, do you see this as a “zero fail” launch? Meaning, if there is just one wrong thing and private emails get exposed, people’s lives could literally be on the line?

This is a great question and one I am asked a lot. We are providing a very unique encrypted communications service on our own custom-built network, but not everything will be 100% perfect the way we want it to be on day one. We are in the process of developing our own mail client so that we can truly have peer-to-peer encrypted email service. At launch our PGP Universal email service will have server-side key management just as it does worldwide presently, but we want something better in 2013 and that is why we are hard at working developing our own peer-to-peer mail client. Our Silent Phone, Silent Text and Silent Eyes are all elegantly peer-to-peer encrypted tools –making it the first time something like this has ever been done.

We know that private information will not be exposed because we built our products and network knowing that lives were and are on the line. That was the threat model and it is why we built the system so we don’t have the keys, only the customer does. Our greatest concern is capacity –we had to push back the date due to the overwhelming response we have gotten. We wanted to add capacity and bandwidth to our custom network.

3) This is a high profile undertaking. The program is designed to keep information secretive. This will probably attract a lot of hackers both on a multinational level and independent level like “Team Ghost Shell” and ”Anonymous.” While the best security is security not talked about, can you give us some insight on how you are attempting to handle this challenge?

This is a high-profile undertaking, but it is about bringing privacy to the world and to protect against powerful criminal and political use of your personal info. We feel that hackers and similar organizations (for the most part) are behind us because they know we are going to have a huge bulls-eye on us. There are a lot of organizations out there that do not want their citizens to have this peer-to-peer secure privacy.  On the other hand, there are good and bad actors out there who simply (because of our unique profile) want to do harm. We do not have in our possession the personal information of any customer. We only have encrypted data on our servers that we don’t have the keys to –our customers do.

4) How has your service as a Navy SEAL helped in your leading the “Silent Circle” project?

There are so many Hollywood-created misconceptions about Special Operations and how they operate. People always envision a war zone scenario, which is of course a part of it, but not all. In the SEALs, you spend a lot of time in foreign countries traveling as a civilian, wearing blue jeans and using a commercial phone. We are trained and taught about hostile communications environments where every call, text and email is monitored by the host-country. You learn very quickly how to adapt. You also learn very quickly about the interception capabilities that are out there which makes me mad and paranoid. In the SEALs it’s about the team and not about ego. It’s not about background. It’s not about glory. It’s about succeeding in the face of overwhelming odds. We are trying to do that at Silent Circle. We have so many people who want this type of worldwide service –and so many who want it to fail for political or institutional reasons. It’s very aggressive, bold and controversial – the type of challenge that only an all-star team with Phil Zimmermann, Jon Callas, Vinnie Moscaritolo and the long list of famous folks we have here – along with two SEALs and three British SAS Special Forces could have any chance of delivering. We are excited because we have succeeded in making the network and product, we just have to continually refine them for the customers starting October 15.

5) Will there be an anonymous pay option for “Silent Circle”?

Yes, we can support anonymous accounts with our special “Dark Card.” It is a laser-etched black metal card you receive in the mail upon subscription purchase using this option. A person can buy one or 100 of these Dark Cards. They are good for a six or 12-month subscription, whichever you select. Each individual Black Metal Dark Card receives a randomly generated 16-digit unique identifier. You can purchase them on one credit card, hand them out to people you want to have this service –and they are completely anonymous –no name, no address. The only thing you need to do to sign up once you have this card is go to our site, punch in your unique card identifier, an email, username and password and you are now in the Circle. You receive a 10-digit Secure Phone Number and all four communications products.

Our e-commerce platform supports creating accounts with one-time use prepaid unique codes on the cards, which can also be used to add more credit to an existing account.

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