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The NSA Wants Its Own Smartphone

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the not-content-with-monitoring-yours dept.

Communications 172

Art Vanderlay writes "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. 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. 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.'"

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Good enough for them, but not for us huh? (5, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37525648)

Oh, so your boys get the privacy protections that you've spent the last 10 years undermining [eff.org] for all the rest of us plebs, huh? I tell you what, I'll be cool with your special phones if, in exchange, the President and NSA Director will issue a public directive to all NSA employees reaffirming the pre-911 NSA policy of not to spying on the phone calls or emails of any American citizen without a court order. You know that policy, right? It's the one we put into law [wikipedia.org] in 1978--the law that you ignored just because the President said so [nytimes.com] .

I'll hold my breath.

Re:Good enough for them, but not for us huh? (1)

Securityemo (1407943) | more than 2 years ago | (#37525762)

Who's saying that the employees conversations on these phones won't be tracked?

Re:Good enough for them, but not for us huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37525888)

Exactly. I'd assume that extensive control, monitoring and accountability of communications through these devices is near the top of the priorities list. Right after hardening from external compromise.

Re:Good enough for them, but not for us huh? (3, Funny)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | more than 2 years ago | (#37525990)

Who's saying that the employees conversations on these phones won't be tracked?

Yeah, but securely tracked.

Re:Good enough for them, but not for us huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37526740)

And then someone leaves the prototype in a bar...

Re:Good enough for them, but not for us huh? (2)

Anthony Mouse (1927662) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527290)

Yeah, the NSA has a different security model than Apple.

For one thing, if the thing is really secure, it shouldn't matter that nefarious people get access to one -- that is one of the main things you need it to be secure against.

Of course, the way you do this is pretty obvious. You put plenty of memory in it but only read-only permanent storage which holds the OS and the device's unique private key, and store all other data "in the cloud" (i.e. on the NSA's secure server). You put a hardware AES engine on the CPU and have it encrypt everything in RAM. You have it establish an encrypted tunnel at all times to a secure building in spy central somewhere and send all other communications through that. Then you use two or three factor authentication to unlock the phone, which authenticates against the central server, and when the phone is locked the encryption key to decrypt most of memory is stored in the central location rather than on the phone. If the phone gets lost you disable its account on the server and it's instantly bricked because it can't even read its own memory, and it doesn't contain any sensitive data in permanent storage.

Re:Good enough for them, but not for us huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37525782)

Assuming you have the right skills, there's nobody stopping you from buying a Nexus One, Nexus S or Nokia 900/N9 and rolling your own ROM with all the protections you envision. That's essentially what the NSA would be doing.
Perhaps a little nice project there for some XDA developers to develop a "Privacy ROM" for the masses. I'd venture to say however that there wouldn't be much of an audience for such a project.

Re:Good enough for them, but not for us huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37525858)

Good luck rolling your own radios. Or verifying that snooping tech isn't built into the hardware itself for that matter.

mmm fat consulting $$$$ (that's four dollar signs) (1)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 2 years ago | (#37525860)

The Android equivalent of SELinux and properly locked down phones?

Re:mmm fat consulting $$$$ (that's four dollar sig (1, Funny)

LucidBeast (601749) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526106)

And made in china components...

Re:Good enough for them, but not for us huh? (1)

malevolentjelly (1057140) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526654)

An Android-based phone? You really don't know much about how this security stuff works, do you?

If a phone that needs to pass any level of non-casual security certifications is to be linux-based, it's going to imprisoned behind an extremely restrictive hypervisor. If the only thing separating the interface from the hardware is linux, it will never pass the requisite security certifications. No device like that has and none ever will lest Linux cease being Linux.

Re:Good enough for them, but not for us huh? (1)

Jeffrey_Walsh VA (1335967) | more than 2 years ago | (#37525948)

I agree it would be better if "policy" was for them to not spy on us, but I don't believe that ever stopped them. It just limited what they could do with the information.

Re:Good enough for them, but not for us huh? (3, Insightful)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526002)

I would be willing to bet that the people who will have this phone issued to them will have even less personal privacy on the device than normal cell phone users. After all, what good is securing the device from evesdropping by foreign intelligence if you can't catch people who are spying from the inside? State security and personal privacy aren't the same thing, not that the difference justifies fucking us, as citizens, over in the name of stopping turrerism.

Re:Good enough for them, but not for us huh? (1)

kevinNCSU (1531307) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526084)

What are you rambling on about? You can 100% guarantee that a phone given to you by the NSA capable of accessing classified information is going to be heavily and regularly monitored by the government without court orders required. There would be 0% expectation of privacy with such a phone.

Not comforting (1)

OhHellWithIt (756826) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526088)

I've always suspected that my supposedly secure Blackberry has some kind of NSA or FBI back door, and this only serves to confirm my suspicion.

Re:Not comforting (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527352)

Do you think the US and Canadian governments, at the very least, can't get access to any data that passes through RIM's servers not using a custom user-generated key?

Re:Good enough for them, but not for us huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37526632)

Please do. Blue is your color and Darwin is calling.

It's a bad idea and not good enough. (0)

elucido (870205) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526840)

It's a really bad, in fact, it's a stupid idea to try to use a mobile toy smartphone for something like this.

It's not about the encryption either. Every single component in that smartphone will have to be made by the right people and in such a way so that there isn't a hardware backdoor. Every piece of software would have to be audited, And even then I still think it's a bad idea to do this.

The encryption part is easy. It's easy to create schemes which are perfectly secure. It's difficult to defend against user error, against the phone being lost or being operated by someone other than the owner.

How would they even do authentication? If it's a password then that will be easily defeated. If it's 2 factor authentication that could still be easily defeated. I just cannot see how this is a good idea, and I'd think it would be silly use smart phones to handle classified information.

Re:It's a bad idea and not good enough. (1)

gorzek (647352) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527072)

Indeed. This has "multi-billion-dollar boondoggle" written all over it.

Re:It's a bad idea and not good enough. (2)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527406)

Encrypted partitions + well-secured lock screen with anti-bruteforce + case intrusion detection systems (to prevent cold boot attack) + self-destruct systems (remote wipe + dead man's switch) = really fucking good security.

Re:Good enough for them, but not for us huh? (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526990)

The thing is, they KNOW how bad it is with governments forcing businesses to share information with them. This is true for seemingly all governments and all businesses. But because that sword cuts both ways, they have essentially created a situation where the technologies and devices are no long trustworthy. So now, they have to create their OWN stuff and not depend so much on contractors (read: cronies).

I can't say I didn't see this coming, but I can say I'm surprised it has taken them this long to realize it.

on second thought (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37527412)

SCREW EM hackity hack hack
lets give it right back at them.

There already is one, the sectera (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37525698)

It's from General Dynamics:

http://www.gdc4s.com/content/detail.cfm?item=32640fd9-0213-4330-a742-55106fbaff32 [gdc4s.com]

Blackberry is very good, it currently holds many certifications (but not top secret):

http://us.blackberry.com/ataglance/security/certifications.jsp [blackberry.com]

Fundamentally, there is a problem with mobile access for top secret communications - you don't know who is looking over the shoulder of the authorized user. Or if someone is pointing a gun at the head of an authorized user. These problems are reduced when you make the user come in to the office.

Official phone of Obama: Windows CE device (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37525794)

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2339444,00.asp

Re:Official phone of Obama: Windows CE device (1)

Shompol (1690084) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527414)

Because Windows CE is the most secure Windows CE on the planet! No so much when compared to other platforms, but hey, it's the Government so it has to come from Microsoft!

Re:There already is one, the sectera (1)

markbark (174009) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526028)

SME-PED will bring SIPRNet to your hip, but the thing's a brick (35 mm thick and weighs half a kilo!) ....and don't get me started on the two hour battery life.

They are worried about Bradley Manning? (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526892)

How can they claim to be worried about situations presented in the Bradley Manning case if they want to simultaneously bring SIPRNet to your hip? Just the concept of trying to have mobility and security seems a bit naive.

Re:There already is one, the sectera (1)

Securityemo (1407943) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526346)

Maybe you could program a stealthy mechanism to have the phone send a "help, my user is having a gun to his head" message, like entering and leaving a set of menus in a certain order?

More likely it'l be forgotten or stolen, ovbiously, but if it contains no information but a password-encrypted VPN or authentication key by itself and the password is of proper length it should be practically safe anyway? And the data it has access to is presumably really, really limited and segregated?

Re:There already is one, the sectera (1)

markbark (174009) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526510)

Well... the forgotten or stolen problem is solved by the fact that you can do a remote wipe with a few keystrokes at the admin console.

Re:There already is one, the sectera (1)

Securityemo (1407943) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527030)

Exactly my point; as long as you can delay cracking the password on the auth key to well beyond the time required to remove access privileges from the key the system should be safe in a practical sense. A remote wipe wouldn't be neccessary since it would be obviously unsafe for the phone to store or cache information - you could defeat remote wipe by putting the phone in a signal-proof container and taking it somewhere safe to view the data on it.

Re:There already is one, the sectera (1)

Securityemo (1407943) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527210)

Okay, actually reading the feature list of the sectera it looks like it manages stuff that's not "secret" as well, like mailing lists and contacts and such and that's stored with "type 1 encryption" which wikipedia defines as being the designation for protection of "classified" data.

Re:There already is one, the sectera (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526928)

Maybe you could program a stealthy mechanism to have the phone send a "help, my user is having a gun to his head" message, like entering and leaving a set of menus in a certain order?

  More likely it'l be forgotten or stolen, ovbiously, but if it contains no information but a password-encrypted VPN or authentication key by itself and the password is of proper length it should be practically safe anyway? And the data it has access to is presumably really, really limited and segregated?

None of that would work because they could simply pick off the emissions the phone produces and get information that way. Unless of course the phone doesn't produce any but 99% of phones will and do, and also you have to worry about securing the user of the phone itself. The whole idea is technologically impossible at this time.

Anything password encrypted will be broken. Anything authenticated by fingerprint, eyes or whatever can and will be broken as well. And if the user isn't safe everything is broken.

Re:There already is one, the sectera (1)

Securityemo (1407943) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527374)

I know of TEMPEST and such, and the wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] lists some designations used by NATO and the US; it seems like they thought of the problem. I always thought that the only practical attack like that was being able to roughly read the images off of monochrome screens from a distance?

Re:There already is one, the sectera (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37526392)

Doesn't the military already deploy mobile Siprnet-capable devices? How do they handle these issues?

Re:There already is one, the sectera (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37526396)

Bingo.

Top Secret/secure compartmentalized information is traditionally read in SCIFs--special, leak-proof rooms designed just for reading/reviewing/discussing this sort of super super double top secret stuff.

The specs for SCIFs are pretty tough. Unused communications wires have to be bonded to ground. If a voice evacuation system speaker is required in the SCIF, it has to be self-amplified, since anyone who's ever attended a K-12 school knows that a PA speaker can be flipped into a microphone.

So what happens when an NSA employee on official travel is in their non-SCIFfed hotel room reading their Super Duper Secure Smartphone?

Re:There already is one, the sectera (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526956)

Bingo.

Top Secret/secure compartmentalized information is traditionally read in SCIFs--special, leak-proof rooms designed just for reading/reviewing/discussing this sort of super super double top secret stuff.

The specs for SCIFs are pretty tough. Unused communications wires have to be bonded to ground. If a voice evacuation system speaker is required in the SCIF, it has to be self-amplified, since anyone who's ever attended a K-12 school knows that a PA speaker can be flipped into a microphone.

So what happens when an NSA employee on official travel is in their non-SCIFfed hotel room reading their Super Duper Secure Smartphone?

Exactly what I was thinking. I don't understand why they haven't thought of that or why they would think this is a good idea. Using smartphones for top secret, secret, or even just sensitive information might not be a good idea. I guess if the information is just sensitive or not very secret it wont make a difference but why use the NSA phone? Why not just let the NSA create a certification standard and let commercial phones design for that standard?

Re:There already is one, the sectera (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37527120)

We find out why Allen Dulles ordered the assassination of Kennedy.

Re:There already is one, the sectera (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526872)

It's from General Dynamics:

http://www.gdc4s.com/content/detail.cfm?item=32640fd9-0213-4330-a742-55106fbaff32 [gdc4s.com]

Blackberry is very good, it currently holds many certifications (but not top secret):

http://us.blackberry.com/ataglance/security/certifications.jsp [blackberry.com]

Fundamentally, there is a problem with mobile access for top secret communications - you don't know who is looking over the shoulder of the authorized user. Or if someone is pointing a gun at the head of an authorized user. These problems are reduced when you make the user come in to the office.

That's just one problem and possibly the main problem. But you also don't know for sure the person reading it is the person authorized. Looking over their shoulder isn't the only problem, as most authentication schemes can be faked.

When an individual has access to classified information it's best to monitor their every move. This is why it's best if they access it from an environment where their every move is seen. This would have to be a completely secured location.

Mobile phones create insecurity because now there is no way to guarantee the location is a secure location or that the individual is the authorized individual.

Re:There already is one, the sectera (1)

fluffy99 (870997) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527356)

The Sectera is the one mentioned, that uses VOIP over SIPR. It's still quite large, poor battery life, and you have to treat the unit as classified at all times. The Blackberry is not authorized for classified at all, just sensitive but unclass.

What they really want is the cell phone equivalent of the STU/STE deskphones with the size and battery life of a current modern cell phone.

Secure right up until... (1)

shoppa (464619) | more than 2 years ago | (#37525718)

And the information will remain highly secure - right up until someone takes a non-secure camera and points it at the secure smartphone so they can get their job done.

Re:Secure right up until... (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527056)

The solution to this is of course to have the phone only show encrypted information, and installing a crypto chip into the visual cortex of NSA agents for decryption. ;-)

That makes no sense (2)

js3 (319268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37525724)

wouldn't the value of security be gone if it is allowed to communicate with other phones? Don't these people learn anything?

Re:That makes no sense (1)

EdZ (755139) | more than 2 years ago | (#37525746)

Yeah, I'm wondering how adding a few hundred thousand links between the public network and SIPRnet is meant to be a good idea..

Re:That makes no sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37525904)

No it wouldn't, just like adding a can opener at the other end of a beer opener will still allow you to open beer.

Re:That makes no sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37525946)

Yes, it would. No, they don't.

Re:That makes no sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37526312)

RIM announced plans for a phone "VM" platform ages ago - you get a physical device, it has two OS's one for personal use, one for work. Or make it dual-boot... Or use VPN. We have a million ways to achieve this for PC's, why not smartphones?

Re:That makes no sense (1)

mlts (1038732) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526592)

The ARM platform supports protections on the instruction level between subsets or "worlds". This was originally meant for DRM, but I'm sure a well written hypervisor can use this to keep work and home content separated, even if one VM got compromised somehow.

Re:That makes no sense (1)

JATMON (995758) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526624)

RIM announced plans for a phone "VM" platform ages ago - you get a physical device, it has two OS's one for personal use, one for work. Or make it dual-boot... Or use VPN. We have a million ways to achieve this for PC's, why not smartphones?

Do you mean something like this? http://communities.vmware.com/community/vmtn/cto/emerging/blog/2010/12/08/vmw-partners-with-lg-to-bring-virtualization-to-smartphones [vmware.com]

meanwhile... somewhere in a bar in California (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37525726)

hey look! someone left their phone.

Re:meanwhile... somewhere in a bar in California (1)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526148)

Obviously these would be hard-paired to the person's bio-chip so the phone would notify them if they moved too far out of range. sheeesh!

contradiction per se (0)

kubitus (927806) | more than 2 years ago | (#37525802)

on the one hand they want to spy on each and everything

on the other hand they want to keep their turf secret

Does one have to be schizophrenic to work there?

if not mandatory, it sure would help!

Re:contradiction per se (3, Informative)

kevinNCSU (1531307) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526156)

I don't think there's anything inherently contradictory about wanting to keep the enemy's knowledge of you to a minimum while maximizing your knowledge of the enemy. Both stem from the idea that knowledge/information is power, and in the information battle, just like the physical battle, you're not interested in a level playing field.

Re:contradiction per se (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526434)

I don't think there's anything inherently contradictory about wanting to keep the enemy's knowledge of you to a minimum while maximizing your knowledge of the enemy.

So, ordinary Americans are 'the enemy,' at least in the eyes of our own government? What a perfectly terrifying prospect...

Re:contradiction per se (1)

kevinNCSU (1531307) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526808)

Are you saying ordinary Americans are trying to break encryption on NSA smart phones in order to intercept their communiques? Neither my post nor GP's mention ordinary Americans btw.

Re:contradiction per se (1)

tqk (413719) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527216)

I don't think there's anything inherently contradictory about wanting to keep the enemy's knowledge of you to a minimum while maximizing your knowledge of the enemy.

So, ordinary Americans are 'the enemy,' at least in the eyes of our own government?

Nah, that's overstating it. Instead, think of your least appreciated manager, the idiot who was always sticking his nose into your business when least wanted, the guy who never should have had the job (due to absence of skills) and never would understand what you were being paid to do for the employer. That's the "ordinary American" you're talking about. "Gahddamned Constitution, rasafrackin', jiggafriggen, ... kroshnit!"

I agree with the poster above: Nokia N900. Lange is re-inventing the wheel.

Re:contradiction per se (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527314)

So, ordinary Americans are 'the enemy,' at least in the eyes of our own government?

I figure there are probably some folk in agencies like the NSA that have a skewed enough world view that they figure most people are criminals and, therefore, most Americans are, indeed, the enemy. That may not be the common mindest, but, yet, some folks in the NSA probably do see Americans as the enemy.

Re:contradiction per se (2)

denis-The-menace (471988) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526290)

schizophrenic ? No.

Hypocrite? YES

It isn't hidden in a shoe but (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 2 years ago | (#37525818)

This should be perfect [diervek.com]

yeah, because... (1)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 2 years ago | (#37525864)

AT&T and the mass media propaganda machine spys on everyone's cellphones as it is now, (kind of makes that cell blocked 800MHz scanner thing a red herring)

No (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37525872)

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.

Yeah, so the NSA has a backdoor into every government worker's phone. No thanks.

Re:No (1)

said213 (72685) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526492)

"Yeah, so the NSA has a backdoor into every phone? thanks!" -FTFY

Re:No (1)

tqk (413719) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527296)

Lange said that he wanted to see his secure smartphone reach beyond the NSA â" ultimately to reach every 'every employee in the Defense Department, intelligence community and across government.

Yeah, so the NSA has a backdoor into every government worker's phone.

I have no problem with that. That's already the situation in the private sector. You want privacy, buy your own phone/computer/...

Secure spying (1)

vvaduva (859950) | more than 2 years ago | (#37525878)

There has to be a way for the Patriot Act spying to go mobile...you can't just have people spying on Americans from a cubicle somewhere when they can do it from the privacy of their own government-owned car...

Wow... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37525886)

what a load of crap. There are no TS data of any kind on or connected to SIPR. The current slate of smart phones that can carry classified comms do NOT connect to SIPR (they are point to point only and use PKI or Shared Secret keys to stand up a P2P secure channel). This article is regarding the Fort's effort to come up with a TS SMEPED as they're known.

Re:Wow... (1)

said213 (72685) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526542)

Ignoring the notion that contractors such as Akamai have monitoring access to these devices is a dangerous misconception to have. There are avenues available for even this highly secured information to leak... nothing about this new device changes the NSA's outsourcing policies.

Don't leave it in a bar! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37525892)

Hopefully the NSA won't be leaving their new super secret smartphone in a bar as Apple has done TWICE now!

Gah (3, Insightful)

lightknight (213164) | more than 2 years ago | (#37525900)

*facepalms*

How can they ask for something like this after doing everything in their power to ensure something like this can't be created?

Well, sure Mr. NSA, we can cobble together a secure phone for you...we'll just throw in an encryption / decryption chip and a process that prompts for a password every 5 minutes. And your agents will hate it, it will become compromised (journalists are so irresponsible), and it will become a waste of tax-payer money.

Did I mention it won't be secure? But don't worry; someone will tell you it can be done, and you'll pay them a lot of money, only to realize they lied.

Re:Gah (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526058)

How can they ask for something like this after doing everything in their power to ensure something like this can't be created?

This all makes perfect sense when you consider what the NSA's desired state of affairs is:
* The NSA, and only the NSA, are technically capable of spying on everybody and anybody at the drop of a hat.
* Nobody can spy on US government officials, and especially nobody can spy on the NSA.

It's worth pointing out that both of these activities are very much within the stated mission of the NSA.

Re:Gah (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526992)

How can they ask for something like this after doing everything in their power to ensure something like this can't be created?

This all makes perfect sense when you consider what the NSA's desired state of affairs is:
* The NSA, and only the NSA, are technically capable of spying on everybody and anybody at the drop of a hat.
* Nobody can spy on US government officials, and especially nobody can spy on the NSA.

It's worth pointing out that both of these activities are very much within the stated mission of the NSA.

While it is true that the NSA can technically spy on anyone and everyone, it's not technically or practically true that nobody can spy on US government officials.

The NSA cracks codes and spies on everyone and this device wont help so I don't understand why its being created.

Confirmation bias + Dunning–Kruger effect (2)

luis_a_espinal (1810296) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526218)

*facepalms*

How can they ask for something like this after doing everything in their power to ensure something like this can't be created?.

Uh, there is nothing preventing a US citizen or legal resident from creating a device that can handle information at different security levels, even TS. You are prevented (and rightly so) from having one already created *for them*, or to create a device that circumvent *their* information handling. But there is nothing that prevents you from creating one from scratch, even a more powerful (though it would be unlikely that you can market one of such from-scratch devices to them after building it outside of their specs.)

Long story short: any technical preventions by NSA are for those not in the NSA.

Well, sure Mr. NSA, we can cobble together a secure phone for you...we'll just throw in an encryption / decryption chip and a process that prompts for a password every 5 minutes. And your agents will hate it, it will become compromised (journalists are so irresponsible), and it will become a waste of tax-payer money.

That's a bit of a non-sequitur as building such a device takes a little bit more than just cobbling an encryption/decryption chip. I'm not necessarily sure where you are going with this (beyond mere rhetoric.)

Did I mention it won't be secure? But don't worry; someone will tell you it can be done, and you'll pay them a lot of money, only to realize they lied.

Uh, again, overt simplification of how these things are commissioned and built. No one can just go and say "it can be done" as such high-risk projects will be first assessed for viability by someone like MITRE for example. I mean, the NSA has an army of Ph.Ds in Mathematics, Computer Science and Computer/Electrical engineering with work experience in cryptanalysis, algorithms, VLSI, SoC and network hardware and communication protocols (both practical and theoretical) as well as defense contractors that build things like f* missiles, radar systems, jammers, and other incredibly complex shit like that.

I could be wrong, but I could bet just surely that you are over estimating your understanding on this issue (and under estimating theirs.) Don't let that stop your rhetoric, though ;)

Re:Confirmation bias + Dunning–Kruger effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37526866)

Say that to TRON - oh wait, he's dead. R.I.P.

Re:Confirmation bias + Dunning–Kruger effect (1)

aaaaaaargh! (1150173) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527020)

Uh, there is nothing preventing a US citizen or legal resident from creating a device that can handle information at different security levels, even TS.

I wouldn't be so sure about that. Officially, yes, you may by now create a phone that does secure voice encryption without any backdoor or key escrow. Some data-channel apps out there claim to do that. But if you implement such an app on your own, I wouldn't be surprised if somebody had a long talk with you...

Don't forget that there is the PATRIOT act -- as long as it is in place no US-made encryption device can be considered secure.

Small article error that changes the context a lot (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37525912)

"Secret Internet Protocol Router Network"

  "use is restricted to top-secret level communications"
This article contradicts it self, SIPR is only up to secret.

Re:Small article error that changes the context a (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37526820)

mod parent up. summary doesn't seem to know what he's actually dealing with here.

Re:Small article error that changes the context a (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527174)

"Secret Internet Protocol Router Network"

  "use is restricted to top-secret level communications"
This article contradicts it self, SIPR is only up to secret.

Ah, that explains the statement "Lange wants a smartphone that is inter-operable and presumably trusted to deal with even more sensitive information." I already wondered what information would be more sensitive than top secret.

Been there, done that. (1)

markbark (174009) | more than 2 years ago | (#37525924)

http://www.gdc4s.com/content/detail.cfm?item=32640fd9-0213-4330-a742-55106fbaff32 [gdc4s.com]

Looks like a Blackberry, but it's about an inch and a half thick and weighs about a pound.
Never before have I seen such hatred heaped upon an inanimate object by its user base.

Wireless, secure, cheap, reliable -- pick two.

Correction (2)

kevin_conaway (585204) | more than 2 years ago | (#37525954)

SIPRNet only allows SECRET information and below. You need to be on JWICS to access Top Secret information.

Re:Correction (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527010)

SIPRNet only allows SECRET information and below. You need to be on JWICS to access Top Secret information.

That doesn't make it any better. It's still a bad idea.

A colossally bad idea (1)

RandCraw (1047302) | more than 2 years ago | (#37525986)

First of all, in order to take classified data out of a secure area, you have to seal it in an approved manner -- triple wrap it, stow it in a lockable opaque container, sign for it, and basically chain it to your body until it reaches its next secure location. That's been the rule in the DoD for over 50 years. Obviously a cell phone, even one with a password, doesn't meet any of these criteria.

Second, how are you going to access this device while maintaining secure surroundings? Based on the way people must use STU III phones (encrypted mil-spec) you must be in a locked room which is acceptably 'sound proof'. To read or write classified documents, you must be in a locked room with no windows (or that are shuttered).

Who is going to use a classified smartphone ONLY within a locked shielded room? And if the room is secure, who is going to get a 3G/4G signal inside a shielded SCIF?

This idea is not only completely unworkable, it's dumbass to the bone.

Re:A colossally bad idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37526122)

Actually, if the password meets the criteria for safe combos, and the device has enough anti-tamper to be considered as secure as a safe, you don't need all the wrapping.

Look at the GD Sectera Wireline Terminal as an example - unclassified "high value government asset" (e.g. always keep it locked when not in use, and it's inventoried every year) when locked, classified when the PIN is entered to unlock it.

Re:A colossally bad idea (1)

kevinNCSU (1531307) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526240)

First of all, in order to take classified data out of a secure area, you have to seal it in an approved manner -- triple wrap it, stow it in a lockable opaque container, sign for it, and basically chain it to your body until it reaches its next secure location. That's been the rule in the DoD for over 50 years

You know for Secret level stuff you can simply mail it right? As in regular post office right next to your post card to Aunt Jenny.

Re:A colossally bad idea (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526448)

You are exaggerating just a little. Yes, there are some rather tedious steps involved in removing classified documents from a secure area. But, the procedure you describe would be enforced on things one level above top secret. Mere Top Secret can be shoved into a standard, lockable briefcase, and toted to a car, and driven between bases. The shackles are totally unnecessary. Levels below top secret are handled much more casually, in my experience. Ship's movement schedules, for instance, are routinely classified as confidential, unless some factor demands that it be secret or top secret. Days later, those confidential ship's movement plans are common knowledge across the base, and beyond. Of course, those same confidential movement plans are often only that - plans. Only one of 6 tours of duty actually went as planned. Things came up to change the ship's schedule, like a war in Beruit City, or some other frivolous thing.

Uh, wut????? (1)

luis_a_espinal (1810296) | more than 2 years ago | (#37525996)

"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. 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. 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.'"

More sensitive than TS? Maybe the article is poorly referring to handling of less sensitive data at the secret level, or beyond that, configuration of the device to handle (or refuse to handle) information transfer at a particular security clearance according to context (keys, location, clearance at each end point, whatever) as opposed to just TS-level information.

Or maybe the article is trying (again poorly) to refer to compartmentalization. That is, the device not only has a notion of TS, but also of compartments (and can handle/refuse to handle information according to applicable compartments at the TS level.)

Unless I'm missing something here, as presented in the article, that sentence makes no sense.

Great idea (1)

malraid (592373) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526012)

And they should name the device the telescreen!!

Buy WebOS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37526014)

Maybe they should buy webOS from HP, and have there own OS. Bet HP would sell it cheap. hehe

governments should not have secrets (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37526086)

governments should not have secrets

Re:governments should not have secrets (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37527040)

Complete and utter bullshit. Only a moron would make such a statement. Or do you live in some fantasy land where, despite all of human history proving otherwise. everyone in the entire world magically just gets along and there is never a disagreement over anything? How do you negotiate with someone when your entire position is known? How do you protect yourself when all of your weaknesses (as well as strengths) are known?

Re:governments should not have secrets (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527044)

Governments without secrets cannot exist at all.

Re:governments should not have secrets (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527256)

So you think they should have continuously broadcasted their information about where Osama was hiding?
Well, I guess Osama would have liked it. :-)

Putting weapons in the hand of terrorist (1)

renzhi (2216300) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526090)

Hmm, are you trying to put weapons in the hand of everyone, and especially terrorists? I don't think so. Have you forgotten that encryption technologies are considered as weapons by your own government?

Simple solution. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526256)

1. Create a nation wide LTE network using IPv6.
2. Use end to end encryption on all devices and only use VOIP for voice.
3. Allow the rest of the nation to use the network in the same way.
4. Place highly accurate time bases in all LTE towers so where you have tower overlap you can get extremely precise locations even indoors.
5. When overlap is not available use the LTE tower in the aGPS mode to provide the ephemeris data almanac as well as improved location based on differential GPS with the LTE tower as a base reference.
Then charge all the carriers to use this network and allow the consumer real choice in carriers. The carriers would in effect become nothing but dumb pipe suppliers and VOIP suppliers.

Where Could You Use This (1)

theManInTheYellowHat (451261) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526278)

So lets say that you have this super secret network smartphone and you had a super secret topic that you wanted to talk about with another super secret person. Where could you have this discussion and should you even be talking out loud? Wouldn't you need to be in a building somewhere that has sound insulation, or some other mechanism to keep your voice from being picked up from some other microphone than the one on your super secret smart phone? Or is it a fancy camera phone and not meant for voice? I hope that the camera is better than the one on my smartphone.....

Re:Where Could You Use This (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527066)

Where could you have this discussion and should you even be talking out loud? Wouldn't you need to be in a building somewhere that has sound insulation, or some other mechanism to keep your voice from being picked up from some other microphone than the one on your super secret smart phone?

That's what the Cone of Silence is for!

Export control ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37526360)

And of course, they won't be allowed to use it outside the USA, because it won't get an export license due to the encryption.

So just what do you need a secure encrypted

Re:Export control ? (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 2 years ago | (#37527268)

For one, the NSA probably doesn't plan on exporting it.

For another, there are plenty of standard encryption libraries that are already approved for export from the US and implement Top-Secret-level encryption. That's probably because we don't significantly restrict export of cryptography any more.

No problem! (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526390)

Several china manufacturers will gladly make you these phones.

LOL (1)

rhyvun (2471684) | more than 2 years ago | (#37526408)

This sounds like an absolutely terrible idea.
Has history not proved that if it exists it can be broken, eventually?

What is at stake if his "secure" smartphone is broken? If I were the NSA I would be looking for a new communications expert... one with a stronger background in history, and info sec.

Why don't they just use Red Phone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37526646)

http://www.whispersys.com/
They could just expand the App to work with data too. Or fix the encryption for our current network, but then they would actually have to get jurisdiction to listen to our calls, instead of just doing it anyways.

Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37527078)

That person over there has a strange phone oh that's right, that is a spy phone so ....... They are a spy!

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