Troy Lange might work for one of the more secretive spy agencies in the United States, but he is happy to talk about his work. He is the NSA’s mobility mission manager and he has been tasked with creating a smartphone that is secure enough to allow government personnel who deal with highly sensitive information to take their work on the road.
The NSA takes the threat of compromised mobile devices (and compromised operatives) very seriously; NSA facilities have strict policies in place to govern the handling of information. The levels of restriction and supervision depend on the type of work that a facility performs – and are necessary if you don’t want a disgruntled operative uploading a bunch of stuff to Wikileaks.
The motivation for Lange’s project, which makes use of commercially available smartphones and operating system software that have been modified and a few custom built apps, is greater efficiency through better connectivity.
Lange highlighted the problem of connectivity within a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF): at present if he wants to send or receive an email, he must be at his desk and never on a laptop, even if the laptop is approved to hold information within an SCIF.
I still don’t have that connectivity to a network, which means that the only way I can get to any of my data – email, calendar invites, you name it – I have to sit down at a wired station to get to it.
At present, the U.S. Government has secure cellphones, they use the government’s Secret Internet Protocol Router Network. The problem is that they can only communicate with other devices that are plugged into the network and their use is restricted to top-secret level communications. Lange wants a smartphone that is inter-operable and presumably trusted to deal with even more sensitive information.
It’s moving away from this whole concept between a classified device and an unclassified device. It’s the information that is classified. So the intent is how can I gain access to that classified information in a mobile way.
Think of the capabilities that would be in the hands of the warfighter when every one of them has a mobile device with which they could communicate back to their general. So you have boots on the ground, they have the camera on their phone, they can say look what’s going on here and be able to bring that information all back to the decision-makers in real time and have them act in real time. How cool would that be? And it’s secure.
Lange said that he wanted to see his secure smartphone reach beyond the NSA – ultimately to reach every “every employee in the Defense Department, intelligence community and across government”.