Going Mobile: The DoD Quest for Secure Smartphones / Tablets

Going Mobile: The DoD Quest for Secure Smartphones / Tablets
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A number of recent articles seem to confirm the selection of Android as a platform for mobile devices by the US Department of Defense as early as this year. The U.S. government has secure cellphones but they are bulky and limited to making calls up to top-secret level and connecting to the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet). This complexity is fostering the use of regular, unprotected cell phones to sometimes conduct classified conversations. For instance and according to CNN, many military pilots flying over Afghanistan and Libya have used commercial iPads with commercial maps.

The DoD interest is mobile devices is not new. About 40 phones were sent to fighters overseas in 2011, and the Army plans to ship 50 more phones and 75 tablets to soldiers abroad this March. In previous trials, troops have evaluated more than 300 Android, iPhone and Windows Phone units. They have also tested tablets from Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, authentication being enabled through the use CACs with the tablets (Common Access Card). The infantry used smartphones to text message updates about their surroundings, send pictures with their GPS location, pull up maps, and fill out reports. Augmented reality applications seem also in development to better support troupes on the ground. The use of mobile solutions is endorsed and supported by senior military officials including, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gen. Martin Dempsey, uses for instance an iPad in standalone mode, every day to read his classified intelligence. According to CNN, “Dempsey has made it clear he is a huge supporter of handheld technology and wants to see it in the hands of savvy young troops as much as possible”.

The availability of iPhones and Android smartphones among the troupes, has clearly positioned De facto the two platforms as possible secure solutions for DoD mobile communications. Apple and Google seemed to have the same position a couple of years ago when they stubbornly refused to provide an access to their core mobile operating systems. But things have changed; in a phone interview to CNN, Angelos Stavrou, an information-security director at George Mason University who is working on the government project as a contractor, said that “Android was more cooperative in supporting some of the capabilities that we wanted to support in the operating system, whereas Apple was more averse.” According to CNN, Apple’s iPhone and iPad are nevertheless also highly desired among U.S. officials, and people involved in the U.S. smartphone program said their goal is to support any type of smartphone.

The main driver for an unrestricted access to the core of any smartphone operating system is to implement both voice and data secure communications. It’s not only necessary to secure communication channels and data storage but also make sure that no application will compromise the platform integrity and confidentiality.

Photos Credits:
Official Army iPhone app By The U.S. Army / FlickR