NSA: Inconsistent products preventing secure Android phones

The agency wants to enable top-secret security on commercial smart phones but can't find the standards-based commercial products that meet its needs.

SAN FRANCISCO — The National Security Agency has begun a pilot program to demonstrate secure classified communications over commercial equipment, but it is having trouble finding standards-based off-the-shelf products that are interoperable and meet its needs.

The standards and protocols exist to provide the security that NSA requires, but they are not being implemented consistently by vendors, Margaret Salter, a technical director in NSA’s Information Assurance Directorate, said Feb. 29 at the RSA Conference.

The agency went shopping with a list of requirements for encryption for the voice channel and for the Session Initiation protocol. “We couldn’t buy one” that met all the requirements, Salter said. “We could pay someone to make it, but that wasn’t the plan.”


More from RSA:

Researchers: How 'leaky' smart phones give up their crypto keys

Search engine poisoning: How malicious sites fool your filters


The plan is to move from secure GOTS — government off-the-shelf products — to COTS — commercial off-the-shelf. As a compromise in its proof-of-concept pilot, NSA modified the operating system of the phones and has accepted a different set of encryption tools to secure Top Secret voice-over-IP traffic. It has fielded 100 Motorola handsets using the Android operating system on several carrier networks as part of its Fishbowl Architecture.

But there is not a completely interoperable, vendor-independent infrastructure. This means NSA has been forced into some vendor-specific platforms to get the functionality it needs, rather than creating a plug-and-play environment. Salter urged the industry to get on board with the program and begin building interoperable products based on industry standards.

NSA went with the Android OS because it was able to tweak it to reduce the attack space and implement other encryption features, which would not have been possible with the Apple iOS. But the open nature of Android is a double-edged sword because no two vendor implementations of it are identical, Salter said.

NSA has just published a set of technical requirements for its secure mobility program. Those requirements will become Common Criteria protection profiles for mobile equipment that can be used for classified information.

The secure mobility program is part of a broader initiative at NSA to move to off-the-shelf technology for classified uses. The expansion of IT from proprietary architectures that are run by a handful of professionals to ubiquitous user-based equipment such as smart phones and tablet computers has put a premium on economy and user-friendly design, Salter said. NSA does security well but is pretty bad at being user friendly, so it is turning to industry to produce the tools it needs.

“We don’t want to be the vendors for the operating systems and the apps,” Salter said.

The Fishbowl Architecture now being tested uses an IPsec virtual private network with Secure Real-Time Transport Protocol for voice, so that the voice traffic is encrypted twice to avoid a single point of failure. All traffic goes back to the enterprise and is routed from there to the final location based on policies set by the enterprise.

The system supports Top Secret voice traffic now and is moving toward handling data as well. The mobile device will be a thin client, with data served to it by the enterprise.

The phones contain two digital certificates for authenticating for IPsec and voice, and a user password is used for authenticating to the SIP server.

Salter said NSA hopes its requirements will be adopted by industry in commercial products so that it will be able to buy off-the-shelf to meet its needs. She said that the Defense Information Systems Agency is planning a larger pilot program based on the same requirements, and there is hope that the military’s buying clout will help drive demand for and acceptance of the standards-based systems.

 

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.