Secure communications across radio and cell networks
- By Stephanie Kanowitz
- Oct 12, 2017
To help eliminate the communications problems that plague first responders, Lockheed Martin has teamed with Blue Cedar to enable secure communications across multiple devices.
Also intended for military or remote users, Lockheed’s Universal Communications Platform (UCP) hub bridges communications across land mobile radios, voice-over-IP, smartphones and other networks, allowing interoperability between multiple types of secure radio and cellular communications. The UCP Communicator app can be downloaded to commercial smartphones, expanding secure communications to users without access to radio equipment.
The app includes Blue Cedar’s layer of encryption and other security controls so that the security goes wherever the app does. Together, UCP Communicator and Blue Cedar enable communication of sensitive information.
“What we do is take an existing app -- let’s say an iOS or an Android app that’s run on any of the devices that support it -- and we inject security code into that app,” said Blue Cedar Chief Product Officer Chris Ford. “The fact that the security follows the app around, embedded inside the app, means you can deploy a secured app to any device.”
There are several key benefits to that, Ford said. One is that security stays just below the surface of the app and so is largely transparent to the user. Acknowledging that users tended to opt for insecure workarounds when they find apps encumbered by logins and security requirements, the Blue Cedar team removed logins and authentication from the process.
Administrators set the authentication methods for UCP end users, but a new user can simply enter a one-time username and password to enroll. Blue Cedar issues an X.509 certificate inside the app to verify that a public key belongs to the user or device contained in the certificate. Going forward, users can use one-touch biometrics to access the app.
“If speed of the essence when responding to a disaster, certainly you don’t want to fumble with passwords and all of that, so an enrolled app can access the application just by using the thumbprint reader on the device itself,” Ford said.
“Human error is still a big threat, and what we see is that when users don’t like security, when it’s hard to use, they don’t use it, and they’ll find alternatives,” he continued. “One of our goals is to make security transparent enough that users will happily access an app and not abandon it, not find a less secure alternative.”
What’s more, Blue Cedar is saving Lockheed time because the contractor doesn’t have to write any code. “They don’t have to spend weeks or months of development writing security into their app. They can build in Blue Cedar after their app is completed,” Ford said. “It really helps them to get apps much more quickly and distribute those apps via a public app store like Google Play or the Apple App Store.”
Before partnering with Blue Cedar, Lockheed faced some problems with the UCP Communicator app, he said. One was a need to encrypt data. Blue Cedar solved that by providing Federal Information Processing Standard-compliant encryption for any data stored on the device or transmitted across the public network.
Distribution was another problem. The company wanted the app to be easily accessible and downloadable from public app stores.
“A lot of times apps are not permitted to be uploaded to an app store when they have technology like Blue Cedar’s, but we did a lot of work in ensuring that our technology is compliant with the automated scans that take place when you publish apps," Ford said. "You could take UCP, secure it and distribute it out to all those first responders from a public app store,” he explained. “We gave them a code-free, simple way to apply our security to their app that encrypts voice traffic as it’s traversing the public network.”
Although he said it would be tough to quantify the return on investment for an agency, Ford said cost savings would likely result from using the technology. That’s because customers don’t have to buy hardware and distribute it to users to keep communications secure. Plus, it saves organizations time in the development process, enabling workers to be more effective and efficient sooner, and it speeds patching.
“Traditionally, apps are developed in silos,” Ford said. “If there’s ever a vulnerability detected, then they have to go to each app, patch that vulnerability, rebuild it and redeploy it." Blue Cedar is like "security middleware, where you can patch and test one time with a Blue Cedar code and deploy it with all your apps," he said. "That not only saves you time when you’re reacting to a vulnerability, it also saves you cost in terms of penetration testing.”
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.