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BarackBerry unmasked

White House officials still won’t say what kind of smart phone President Barack Obama is using to stay connected with his closest confidantes.

But sources familiar with White House communications services have confirmed that the president is packing a BlackBerry 8830 as his primary smart phone to send and receive e-mail messages and communicate with his inner circle of contacts.

The subject of what kind of smart phone Obama would be able to use once in the Oval Office generated a variety of conflicting reports just after Obama took office. During his campaign days, Obama had relied heavily on his BlackBerry — the ubiquitous e-mail and smart phone device made by Research in Motion (RIM).

But federal network communications experts contended that Obama would need to use a different smart phone that met National Security Agency standards. And the only device currently certified and available is one made by General Dynamics C4 Systems called the Sectéra Edge.

The Sectéra Edge is a custom-designed smart phone, engineered and configured to wirelessly send and receive classified e-mail messages and attachments. It also permits access to Web sites operated on the government’s Secure IP Router Network (SIPRnet). It features a single-touch button that permits authorized users to toggle between SIPRnet and the government’s Non-secure IP Router Network (NIPRnet). And it permits secure voice conversations. Until recently, government officials typically had to carry multiple devices to perform these tasks.

However, as GCN reported Jan. 31, an encryption expert familiar with the security design of BlackBerry smart phones and the enterprise administration systems that support them confirmed that a BlackBerry is capable of providing all the encryption and security provisions a president would need. What it lacks, however, is the necessary government approvals to access and carry information over classified networks.

RIM uses Advanced Encryption Standard 256, the strongest encryption method available and one that is approved for secret levels of communication by NSA. Moreover, there are more than 500 policies that an administrator can control regarding how messages are to be delivered, from or to whom, and what Internet applications can be processed. Administrators can even arrange to delete all the data at rest on a BlackBerry if it hasn’t connected to the network within a set number of hours.

A BlackBerry can also support additional layers of encryption, including proprietary protocols such as High Assurance IP Encryptor, a lightweight virtual private network that NSA requires for accessing SIPRnet.

“The built-in security of the BlackBerry is equal to the SME PED, but the difference is the type of cipher,” said this encryption expert, referring to the Secure Mobile Environment Portable Electronic Devices that the government has commissioned. And it would still need to go through a lengthy certification process to gain access to the SIPRnet.

According to an individual familiar with but not authorized to discuss White House communications systems, the president is using a BlackBerry 8830 smart phone with enterprise administration controls set using a substantial number of available security policies.

Posted by Wyatt Kash on Mar 16, 2009 at 9:39 AM


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