Move Over, BlackBerry

New secure e-mail supports Windows PDAs for Army

Until recently, Army employees accessing sensitive e-mail messages on the Global Information Grid had to use BlackBerry wireless devices from Research in Motion Ltd.

'Now I have a choice,' said Lt. Col. C.J. Wallington, the Army's advanced technologies director at Fort Belvoir, Va.

In February, the Army approved Sensa secure mobile e-mail from Appsware Wireless, doing business as Apriva, for use with sensitive-but-unclassified and for-official-use-only e-mail. The approval makes available to the Army a host of personal digital assistants from multiple carriers running the Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system.

Sensa provides public-key encryption-Secure Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions encryption for e-mail and attachments using the 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard. It supports the Defense Department's Common Access Card (CAC) and soft tokens stored on the device for authentication, signing and encrypting. In addition to securing transmissions, it includes ApprivaVault for encrypting data stored on the device.

Competition is good

The Army sees diversity and competition as a good thing, Wallington said.
'When you get different products you increase your security posture, you lower your costs and you increase your feature choices,' he said. 'RIM is a good product, but they became a little complacent and didn't have to address the Army's needs.'

The threat last year of a BlackBerry shutdown in a patent infringement lawsuit against RIM is an example of the need for a variety of platforms for messaging and e-mail, Wallington said.

Sensa was developed using DOD's 8100.2 wireless security policies, which require two-factor authentication, said Richard Spinella, Apriva's vice president of government solutions.

'We had the luxury of building a product from the ground up to meet the needs of the federal government,' he said.

The company plans to sell it in the private sector as well, but it is being launched in the government market because it was designed to meet its needs.

Apriva has been manufacturing wireless card readers for seven years. Its BT-100C Bluetooth CAC reader is approved for use with BlackBerry and now Windows Mobile devices.

Sensa is a client/server application that grew out of a secure wireless point-of-sale gateway service that Apriva operates, said chief executive officer Chris Spinella.

'In 2003, we started looking at other applications that could run through our gateway,' he said.

The company settled on secure messaging, using DOD requirements as a guide for specifications. Windows Mobile was the operating system of choice because the company felt it would offer the broadest range of devices.

Sensa provides an encrypted tunnel for e-mail from the handheld device, through the carrier's network to the recipient's handheld device or a Microsoft Exchange Server if the recipient device is a desktop. Traffic is routed through Apriva's network operations center, which has dedicated connections to major carrier networks. Sensa uses its own mobile e-mail client rather than integrating with the Outlook client.

One reason for the lack of variety on the Army's list of approved Two-way Wireless E-mail Devices (TWED) was that there was no formal process for adding products, Wallington said.

When Apriva approached the Army to get on the TWED list, 'we couldn't find anyone who would do the testing,' Wallington said. 'So we decided to do it ourselves.'

The process took about six weeks, and approval was granted in February. Apriva received a blanket purchase agreement for Sensa from the Army in September 2006.
Now that the ice has been broken, there could be more wireless platforms added to the list. Wallington said the office already is doing initial evaluations for another product.

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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