U.S. Government & Military To Get Secret-Worthy Android Phones

Greg Kumparak
techcrunch

The amount of stuff we trust to fly in and out of our smartphones is astounding.

Just look at what happened when a couple of reporters got access to an unwitting (and rather unlucky) Apple employee’s iMessages alone — within days, they learned more about him than most people know about their closest friends.

Now, imagine all the stuff that could fly in and out of a government official’s phone, or that of a highly-ranked member of the military. Forget saucy texts and booty pictures — we’re talking about state secrets, here.

Looking to keep their secrets underwraps while on the go, the U.S government is working on a build of Android custom-tailored to meet their security requirements.

Word of the project comes from CNN, who notes that U.S. officials/soldiers aren’t currently allowed to send any classified data over their smartphones. If they need to transmit anything that might sink ships (so to speak), they currently need to find a secured (generally meaning hardwired) line hooked to an approved device.

Here’s the gist of the project:

  • A limited number of soldiers will get the phones first, then federal agencies, then possibly contractors
  • The U.S. won’t be building their own hardware — that’d be too expensive. Instead, they’ll be buying commercially available devices and reflashing them.
  • They hoped to be able to offer iOS devices, but it’s not going to happen. CNN notes that federal officials met with Apple to request that they share their source — as you’d probably guess, Apple wasn’t too cool with that idea.
  • Surprisingly, users of the handsets will be able to install new applications, though the handsets will put a specific emphasis on exactly what information the application can access and what it’s currently sending. Seems unlikely that they’d give these things full Android Market access, though — that’d be rather silly.
  • The project is being funded by DARPA, with the NSA evaluating it as they go (while working on a version of their own, curiously.)

Most of the project’s details are still underwraps, but this is all still rather interesting. What hardware might they use? If DARPA makes any substantial security improvements to Android’s kernel, might that work make it back to the official branch? Might this work eventually be monetized (remember, Siri was born as a DARPA project) and offered to enterprises looking for a locked-down version of Android — and what does that mean for RIM/BlackBerry?

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