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U.S. military phones: Android is system of choice

U.S. military phones: Android is system of choice

Posting in Government

The U.S. government has approved the use of Android smartphones for use in the field to communicate and exchange classified information.

According to CNN, the U.S. government has approved particular Android devices for use in the military. Some United States officials are expected to be using these smartphone models to handle restricted documents in the field later this year.

In order to allow military personnel an easier way to communicate in the field, smartphones will be deployed to U.S. soldiers, and this will be followed by federal agencies and local governmental officials -- providing a means to send governmental cables outside of office confines.

What makes this approval unusual is the fact that users will be permitted to send classified documents through mobile devices -- currently, neither soldiers nor governmental officials are allowed to do so due to security concerns.

The government chose Android for its open source capabilities; in order to allow modifications to improve security layers and also reduce other facilities -- such as access to potentially compromising services, including the Android market. Following federal officials meeting with Apple, their smartphone range was considered unsuitable due to the company being unwilling to provide access to the iOS source code, therefore limiting security development.

By modifying products already available, the government will be able to save both the time and money required in creating and issuing their own secure devices. Making security modifications to Android's core functions will be a less lengthy and costly affair than the alternative, and it is reported that updates for the modified Android smartphones will be available in weeks, rather than the prolonged periods of time normal consumers generally face.

According to an NDA spokeswoman:

"The ultimate goal is to give war fighters, analysts and other intelligence professionals access to classified information on the go -- boosting innovation in the field, efficiency and productivity."

In theory, with a secure device, a soldier could track events and personnel on a digital, real-time map, or an army official could transfer emergency dispatches without security concerns.

Citing two individuals already involved in the project, CNN reports that developers in the government program have completed a version that has been authorized for storing classified documents but not transmitting them over a network. Smartphones that will be suitable for handling classified communication are expected to be ready within the next few months.

One of the directors for the Army's Brigade Modernization Command, Michael McCarthy, told CNN that the Army has been involved in testing touch-screen smartphones at U.S. bases for the last two years. 40 of these 'modified' smartphone models have been shipped so far, and it expects an additional 50 handsets to be added to this number in the next month, as well as 75 tablets.

The project is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It is currently considered a top-priority project. Naturally, there will be limits for the sake of security on what a soldier can do with these modified models -- they may not be able to play Angry Birds, and transmitting data will be limited.

If the program is successful, then Android could arguably become the latest competitor for the producers of BlackBerry phones, Research in Motion. The company is considered a top supplier for governmental officials, due to the stringent, centralized security systems that BlackBerry models possess.

Image credit: Johan Larsson

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure