The National Security Agency’s secret agents may soon use smartphones to access classified data, but developing a secure portable device has proven a major challenge.
Troy Lange, the NSA’s mobility mission manager, said he is developing a smartphone secure enough for spies to use, but akin to user-friendly iPhones and Android models.
“I want to get this into everybody’s hands,” said Lange, alluding to hopes that the device could be used throughout the government. However, Lange knows his plans make “the security people’s heads pop off.” The new device will have to pass muster by security agents to make sure it can’t be hacked or transfer dangerous information.
The concerns about hacking are valid ones, as hackers are becoming more successful in their efforts to breach systems. For example, hacktivist group Anonymous hit a FBI cyber-security contractor just last month, posting nearly 400 megabytes of files from ManTech, an online security contractor for the FBI, NATO, and U.S. Defense, State and Justice Departments. U.S. Army personnel files and e-mails were among the items publicized.
The U.S. government already has secure cell phones, according to Reuters, but they can only make calls to top-secret levels by connecting with the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network. Lange said the current system is not sufficient to handle mobile traffic, however, given the transient lifestyle of many NSA agents.
Agent Lange said if he wants to check email on the NSA’s stand-alone computer, he has to sit at a wired, desktop computer because even laptops can’t access the system.
“I still don’t have that connectivity to a network, which means that the only way I can get to any of my data — email, calendar invites, you name it — I have to sit down at a wired station to get to it,” Lange said.
The trick will be in the NSA’s ability to create a phone that is useful enough for the personnel’s mobile needs, but still encrypted enough to protect the often classified data the agents manage. As hackers’ methods prove increasingly sophisticated and cybercriminals become more audacious, the NSA faces major challenges in developing a mobile device fit for its needs but still secure enough to withstand attack.