DISA tests security for amplified cellular signals, voice encryption

The Defense Information Systems Agency is testing security capabilities for emerging wireless technology, including femtocell technology and how to more effectively encrypt unclassified but sensitive voice communications, said Peter Zarrella, an engineer for technology reconnaissance at DISA.

In this report:

Better security boosts agencies' use of wireless devices

Femtocell devices are small, cellular base stations geared for home or small offices that let service providers extend coverage indoors. Some of the companies that offer femtocell products include Airvana, ip.access, Sprint, Verizon and Ubiquisys. 

DISA is testing femtocell products in conjunction with the agency’s teleworking program, Zarrella said. Typically, people working from home rely on their own systems and mobile devices or use what their agencies provide them. If they live in areas that have wireless dead spots, they won’t get adequate signal strength.

A femtocell creates a mini-cellular infrastructure within your home. It plugs into users’ wireless local-area networks and picks up a cell phone signal when it is about 30 to 40 feet from the device. “So, you’re essentially getting five bars of signal and clear voice,” Zarrella said.

However, any technology that can benefit you can also be used against you, he noted. “So we’re looking at how we can lock it down,” protecting communications from being overhead.

Additionally, there is a growing requirement for stronger encryption to secure cell phones as military personnel deployed overseas talk to family members back home. “There are a number of capabilities that we are looking at that will actually encrypt the voice calls not at a classified level but at a sensitive level,” Zarrella said.

DISA has been talking to vendors and assessing their products, he said. This is one of the emerging capabilities that will be crucial for the future, he added.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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