DNA from NSA encoded into smart-phone monitoring tool
Fixmo Sentinel available for BlackBerry; Android, iPhone versions on way
- By William Jackson
- Mar 23, 2011
Software start-up Fixmo has received a boost from the National Security Agency, which has licensed configuration audit and software control technology for mobile devices to the Sterling, Va.-based company.
The Fixmo Sentinel, initially available for Research in Motion BlackBerry smart phones, remotely monitors the status of an organization’s devices to ensure that they begin and remain in a known trusted state. The tool has its origins in the NSA-developed AutoBerry software that many government agencies use.
“It addresses the questions: How do you know your phone is doing what it’s supposed to do, and how can you prove it?” Fixmo CEO Rick Segal said.
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Segal, who said he came across the AutoBerry software last year at a telecommunications trade show, said working with the secretive agency’s Technology Transfer Program was an unexpected delight.
“It was friction-free, to the extent that anything is friction-free in government,” he said. Rather than behaving like bureaucrats, “these guys were acting like a start-up.”
The BlackBerry version of Sentinel became commercially available in January. An Android version is now in beta testing, and an Apple iPhone version is expected to be in beta testing this summer.
Sentinel uses an agent that resides on the device to monitor its configuration and software. It is an enterprise tool intended for use in sensitive environments in which an organization regulates or controls the use of communications devices to ensure that no one can compromise or misuse the device.
The software initially confirms that the device conforms to a trusted policy, and it then tracks any changes, additions or deletions to or from that state. An admin server is used to set policies for acceptable configurations and uses, and the client regularly reports the device’s condition to the server. Depending on the policy, the server can alert an administrator of changes or violations or take action, such as locking or erasing data on the device.
The core engine of Sentinel is AutoBerry, Segal said, and Fixmo developed the interface and enhanced database for compliance. With AutoBerry, the software produced a snapshot of a BlackBerry’s condition when a user plugged the device into a server. That snapshot could be compared with earlier snapshots or an approved configuration template. With Sentinel, the software works remotely to provide continuous monitoring and near-real-time reporting of the device’s status.
NSA trademarked the AutoBerry name last year at the same time the agency granted Fixmo the license for commercial development. Under its agreement, Fixmo is supporting government AutoBerry customers and transitioning them to the commercial product.
Earlier this month, Fixmo announced a partnership with SteelCloud to deliver Sentinel configured to Defense Department Security Technical Implementation Guides. SteelCloud's SteelWorks appliance will automatically configure Sentinel with STIG-compliant policies for BlackBerry devices.
William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.