As Germany’s “Handygate” has become a mass phenomenon bordering on hysteria, one of the strangest aspects has been the fact, which I’ve noted previously, that Chancellor Angela Merkel was using a quite insecure cellphone to conduct government business. According to numerous media reports, the cellphone in question, said to have been intercepted by NSA for years, was used by Merkel for political party affairs, and was supposed to be used only to the classification level of VS-NfD, which is roughly equivalent to the U.S. category of For Official Use Only (FOUO), in other words, not actually classified at all.
Except the actual story is coming into focus now and it’s a rather different one than what Berlin’s been complaining so loudly about. While Merkel has indeed had a quite vulnerable cellphone, her “real” Chancellor-Phone, as the Germans call it, is quite secure from interception.
As reported in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the manufacturer of Merkel’s “real” phone, a Düsseldorf firm called Secusmart, is the provider of choice to the German government as well as some private firms who worry about data security (at a cost of 2,500 Euros per handset, there aren’t many private buyers). Secusmart supplied Merkel with a voice encryption solution four years ago, based on software and a cryptographic chip, which was updated this year and works on all new BlackBerry handsets. Secusmart’s CEO, Hans-Christoph Quelle, maintains that Merkel’s calls using his firm’s phone are quite secure, even against NSA.
As explained by Secusmart, their phone’s AES encryption with 128 bits makes it possible to generate 340 sextillion different keys, that is to say 340 followed by 36 zeros. “Even with supercomputers, according to today’s technical standards it would theoretically take 149 billion years to crack this code” — in other words, 10,000 times longer than the age of the universe. As CEO Quelle put it, “that should keep even the United States going for a while.”
And indeed it would. So what, again, is all this fuss about … ?