UPDATE 10/6/2015: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Emmanuel Gadaix as a co-creator of DarkMatter.
Do you want to use a secure smartphone, but not look like you're using a secure smartphone? A team of researchers are developing a version of Android called DarkMatter that could turn mainstream Android phones, such as the Galaxy S4 and the Nexus 5, into high-end security devices.
DarkMatter is currently in closed beta, and is expected to become available in early 2015. But at the Hack in the Box conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia earlier today (Oct. 15), security researcher The Grugq (known only by his pseudonym) explained how DarkMatter will handle users' personal data and identity.
In a talk entitled "OPSEC for the Age of Egotistical Giraffe," a reference to a National Security Agency (NSA) program, Grugq discussed the growing need for information security and how DarkMatter seeks to address those needs.
DarkMatter will use a modified version of a secure messaging system called Pond, still being developed by Google security engineer Adam Langley. Highly praised in the security field, Pond has a number of security advantages over other messaging apps such as Hangouts, WhatsApp, Snapchat and others.
Pond is built to be anonymous. Accounts are not matched with any other kind of personal data, and matching a message to the individual who sent it is extremely difficult.
Pond's design also prioritizes security first and last: Whereas other messaging apps have different layers of security and default to insecure if the proper specifications aren't met, Pond works only in one highly secure mode.
To connect with other Pond users, two people first have to agree on a shared passphrase. It's safe to communicate this passphrase via unsecured messaging or email services, because it's only temporary: The passphrase is used to set up a time-limited window in which the two users can share encryption keys. After that, the passphrase is no longer used and all messages are encrypted with those keys.
Many security experts have already compared DarkMatter to Blackphone, the recently released, security-oriented smartphone developed by SGP Technologies. Blackphones boast original, distinct hardware developed by Spanish hardware startup Geeksphone, which gives the creators more control over the phone's ins and outs, as well as communications software from Silent Circle.
But one possible downside of Blackphone is that it's recognizable as a Blackphone. And if you have a Blackphone, the logic goes, you might have something important you want to protect. DarkMatter, by contrast, is all software, and can be loaded onto a regular smartphone. Not only does it hide your info, but it hides the fact that you are hiding anything at all.
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Jill Scharr is a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she regularly covers security, 3D printing and video games. You can follow Jill on Twitter @JillScharr and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.