White House Android Phone Tests Don't Signal BlackBerry's Retirement

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2014-03-22 Print this article Print

Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel secures her BlackBerry Z10 from National Security Agency (NSA) intrusion using one of these phones with the SecuSmart chip. President Obama likely isn't using SecuSmart, but it's probable that he's using something similar developed in conjunction with the Pentagon communications folks.

But SecuSmart isn't the only provider of secure communications technology for mobile devices. This year CeBIT was full of them in response to the many prominent reports of NSA spying. Most of these products, including a new one from SecuSmart, will work on Android and iOS devices. In general, they all perform voice encryption, and some also perform data encryption.

None of the Android or iOS devices is qualified to handle classified data; only the BlackBerry 10 series of devices can handle any level of classified information. But even BlackBerry can't handle material that needs to be protected at a high level, such as the nuclear launch codes, for example.

This means that devices that are currently being investigated will need to support software that will provide voice and data encryption as well as the ability to use a secure communications medium. Samsung is already working on such a system, Samsung Knox, which will provide a level of protection similar to what BlackBerry provides.

Knox uses what the company calls a Knox Container, which is a secure virtual environment that runs under Android. In theory it's similar to the operation of the work-related environment of BlackBerry Balance, and it keeps containerized apps separate from the rest of the device, including providing a separate home page, launcher and apps.

Samsung's Knox is a good beginning for enterprise security needs. It's unclear whether it's NSA-proof, since Samsung has made no such claims. LG, at last check, does not appear to have anything like Knox. But there's no reason that the DoD or one of its contractors can't create a similar containerized system for Android that would work on either company's products. It's worth noting that there aren't any Chinese products that the Pentagon is looking at for any level of secure communications, including, at this point, the Apple iPhone.

None of what the Pentagon is doing adds up to the White House tossing out the BlackBerry despite some dire predictions. What's going on here is that the WHCA is doing its due diligence and also ensuring that there's no single point of failure in its communications. But let's face it, if Mr. Obama wants to use a BlackBerry, that's what he'll use. He is, after all, the commander in chief, and the military has to follow his orders.


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel