Thursday, March 7, 2013

New Android app lets you make encrypted calls over VoIP 2013

Custom encrypted telecommunications solutions provider Mycelial Communications has released an app called Spore that gives users access to the company’s Open {Secure, Source, Standards} Telephony Network (OSTN). The network lets users make free voice over IP (VoIP) calls, much like Skype or Viber, but with an added bonus: all your communications are completely encrypted. Besides the encryption, the most important thing that should be noted is that the app is open source.

Spore offers encryption in VOIP calls
Spore is in beta right now, but you can grab the setup file from the company’s website, or you can get the app from Google Play, which this will cost you Rs 107. The price is considered as a donation to the company, which will help it further develop the project. The app is pretty easy to set up and it takes barely a minute to get started, but the developers have anyway provided a guide for setting the app up on their website.


Spore uses the Zimmerman Realtime Transport Protocol (ZRTP) to access OSTN. The protocol uses a very specific method of exchanging cryptographic keys, dubbed the Diffie-Hellman key exchange. The keys are then used to establish a shared secret key over an insecure communications channel. The keys are exchanged between the phones without going to the server, so if the exchange is successful, the host server, which in this case is Mycelial, would be none the wiser about your call.

We tried the app out, and found it integrates itself with the default Android dialer pretty well. You have to register an account, but unlike Skype, you don't have to enter any details; all you have to do is choose a username and password. Once done, you get an SIP code which is also your VoIP phone number for the encrypted OSTN network. You can call other Spore users with their SIP codes.

We set up a couple of phones with Spore and tested the app. On connecting a call, you get a four letter code that you can verify with the caller and confirm that the connection has been encrypted. During calls, we noticed a slight lag (1-second lag) over 3G and Wi-Fi, which may be more pronounced if used on slower networks such as EDGE and GPRS. There are a lot of options you can tweak, and power users will find a ton of options catered towards them. 

While Spore integrates with Android’s dialer, you can also easily access it by pulling down the notification drawer and opening it from there. Automatic integration with the People app would’ve been welcome, but the app is still in beta and the company may develop it even further.

The OSTN technology is under development by the Guardian Project. The main aim of the tech is to define a standard by which a VoIP service can be considered secure from end to end. This includes verifiable encryption, minimal logging, and a decentralised model of deployment and use.

At the moment Spore doesn't seem to offer services much different than other VoIP services like Skype, except for being open source and offering encryption. This is bound to be a very niche app, and will probably not see much popularity in the mainstream market.

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