Encryption mobile app 'can't be broken by the NSA'

A smartphone app going live this month claims to be the 'dark Internet tunnel' that thwarts snooping on calls and texts.

The app, called Scrambl3, uses technology initially developed by the US National Security Agency (NSA) in its Fishbowl project to create secure mobile solutions in 2012. The agency released the technical specifications to help US businesses protect their intellectual property.

Scrambl3 was launched on Monday as a stand-alone app for Android devices by California-based start-up USMobile, according to the AFP press agency.

The system creates the smartphone equivalent of a virtual private network (VPN) to make messages invisible on the Internet, said Jon Hanour, USMobile CEO.

“We want to provide the most private and most secure mobile programme on the market,” Hanour explained. “We think we have the best combination of anything that's available today.”

Scrambl3 adds an extra layer of protection compared with other privacy messaging apps, Hanour said, the only other network using the technology being the US Department of Defense for classified communications.

“If you are not protecting encrypted traffic within a highly encrypted VPN, then you are not secure in today's environment,” said Hanour.

Even though the system was developed with help from the NSA, the app’s encryption and security filters can’t be broken by the NSA, the company said.

The software used for the app requires a special US export licence and can’t be sold in North Korea, Syria or Iran as they feature on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

USMobile won’t store voice messages or texts on its servers and won’t use the public telephone network, creating gateways for users to bypass surveillance and making data inaccessible to law enforcement or other investigations.

In recent months the NSA and the FBI have raised security concerns over the encryption used by Apple and Google, which don’t have access keys, and said it would make it more difficult to track down criminals.

“If the government has a master key, then it is going to make everyone less secure,” Hanour said.

“In our brave new world where the details of our lives and businesses are becoming increasingly public through social media, sophisticated marketing techniques and government surveillance, we are seeing a trend toward protecting our privacy.”

USMobile started working on the project in 2011 with a telephony group, way before the 2013 revelations by former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden.

But the documents leaked by Snowden only affirmed the need for better security within companies, government agencies and individuals who deal with sensitive information, Hanour said. “We think there are many state and local and federal agencies, and especially police forces, who would use this.”

In addition to the mobile app, USMobile plans to install encryption software on corporate servers to create secure messaging platforms.

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