Q to Bond: Your handheld communicator is on the way

LOCKED IN: General Dynamics' Sectera Edge looks like a typical handheld but is designed to meet NSA security requirements.

Photo by General Dynamics

The National Security Agency is in the home stretch of evaluating secure handheld voice and data communications devices from two vendors, according to the systems' manufacturers.

The agency issued contracts under its Secure Mobile Environment Personal Electronic Device procurement vehicle to General Dynamics C4 Systems and L-3 Communications, the vendors said. NSA now is proceeding to certify the units' compliance with information security requirements, a necessary step before they can be fielded.

General Dynamics recently delivered 60 engineering models of its Sectera Edge device to NSA. L-3 said it's nearing the end of the development and certification cycles of the secure Guardian handheld device and expects to have certified production units of the Guardian available in the fourth quarter.

With NSA certification, the Defense Department will be cleared to buy the devices under an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract. After passing the certification stage ' essentially a technical evaluation ' the handheld units will have to be accredited, which is a legal and policy determination of the suitability of their security level for use in a particular mission or organizational function.

'We anticipate finalizing a production contract with NSA in the next several weeks, [after which] users will be able to order production units,' said James Diercks, program director of secure wireline and wireless devices at L-3.

The two vendors have been developing the secure handheld systems in cooperation with NSA under a contract awarded in July 2005.

The handheld units, which resemble commercial personal digital assistants, provide secure access to classified e-mail using the NSA-developed High Assurance Internet Protocol Encryptor Interoperability Specification standard.

The handheld units also provide secure voice links using NSA's Secure Communications Interoperable Protocol and meet NSA requirements that protect against reverse engineering of their security capabilities, although the vendors say details of those preventative features are classified.

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