Interest in secure communications is at an all time high, with many concerned about spying by both governments and corporations. This concern has stimulated developments such as the Blackphone, a custom-designed handset running a forked version of Android that's built with security in mind.
But the Blackphone has a problem. The mere fact of holding one in your hand advertises to the world that you're using a Blackphone. That might not be a big problem for people who can safely be assumed to have access to sensitive information—politicians, security contractors, say—but if you're a journalist investigating your own corrupt government or a dissident fearful of arrest, the Blackphone is a really bad idea. Using such a phone is advertising that you have sensitive material that you're trying to keep secret, and is an invitation to break out the rubber hoses.
That's what led a team of security researchers to develop DarkMatter, unveiled today at the Hack In The Box security conference in Kuala Lumpur. DarkMatter is a secure Android fork, but unlike Blackphone and its custom hardware, DarkMatter is a secure Android that runs on regular Android phones (including the Galaxy S4 and Nexus 5) and which, at first glance, looks just like it's stock Android. The special sauce of DarkMatter is secure encrypted storage that selected apps can transparently access. If the firmware believes it's under attack, the secure storage will be silently dismounted, and the phone will appear, to all intents and purposes, to be a regular non-secure device.