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US Army supplier touts spy-phone tech to suits

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MWC 2013 Don’t believe what you see at the cinema - James Bond doesn’t use a Sony mobile. Today’s British spies are kitted out with a BlackBerry for email and a Motorola for voice. The Motorolas use a protocol called Sectéra for scrambling which comes from General Dynamics, which does stuff for the US military, including system integration.

GD, which yesterday announced it had won a $224m contract from the US Army to supply and maintain Hydra-70 air-to-ground rockets, built the clunky-looking Sectéra Edge, a hardware carbuncle tacked onto the Motorola handset. But the defence contractor is now offering something more modern: two solutions based on Samsung and LG hardware.

The Samsung version is a custom version of Jellybean built on the US National Security Agency's security-enhanced Linux. The aerospace and defence contractor installs it on one of a range of Samsung phones using a special General Dynamics root.

Every Galaxy S3 shipped has two root keys - one for Samsung and one for General Dynamics. When the user installs the secure version, they overwrite the Samsung root so that only General Dynamics can issue upgrades. This puts a secure and controlled environment on the phone using the Open Kernel Labs software. The contractor bought Open Kernal Labs last year.

To log into the device, the demonstrator from General Dynamics used a US Department of Defense-issued security card. The reflashed Galaxy then becomes a secure trusted platform with government-level encryption. There is also remote management so the device remains secure if lost or stolen.

Having the hardware enabler, in the form of the root key, makes the General Dynamics system something which will be rated by the security services as more secure than the current BlackBerry solution.

The second solution from General Dynamics uses an LG handset. This is fundamentally different from the Samsung solution in that it doesn’t have the root, but instead is dual boot. You can have two Android environments: one for normal consumer use - with the ability to do whatever you might do on a standard Android handset - and the other a secure environment. The secure version - like that of the Samsung - can only make secure SIP calls and won’t allow you to do anything the company or government policy might block.

When the phone is in standard mode the screen is edged in green, and while it's in secure mode it has a red border. The dual-boot LG Optimus is in use by US marines and you can see how they might want to use Facebook and Foursquare when away from their families but that those things might raise some eyebrows if they were to be linked to a secure operation.

A sophisticated set of controls can be installed as a security policy, so for instance the camera might not work in certain locations, and Wi-Fi might be switched on and off by the security policy. To switch between the secure and insecure phone, General Dynamics has hijacked the camera button.

Real-life James Bonds might appreciate using the same phone they play Angry Birds on to make top-secret calls to government headquarters... And, after all, it must be hard to be a secret agent man when you're walking around carrying this. ®

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