Obama smartphone conforms to military standards

President likely to use General Dynamics' super-secure Sectéra Edge

President Barack Obama may not have to give up having a smart phone in the White House, but the device he’ll be using will still be a far cry from his trusted BlackBerry.

Contrary to some media reports, Obama won’t simply be trading in one BlackBerry — the ubiquitous e-mail and smartphone device made by Research In Motion (RIM) — for a more secure version. Rather, he’ll be switching altogether to a maximum-security smart phone — most likely the Sectéra Edge made by General Dynamics C4 Systems Group.

A spokeswoman for General Dynamics could not comment on whether the president would be getting one of the company's smart phones. But industry experts have confirmed the Sectéra Edge is the first and only Secure Mobile Environment Portable Electronic Device (SME PED) now generally available to the government market that meets specifications from the National Security Agency and the military.

The Sectera Edge is actually a re-purposed Palm Treo 750 that has been reconfigured to send and receive wireless classified e-mail messages and attachments, as well as access Web sites on the government’s Secure IP Router Network (SIPRnet). It features a single-touch button that permits authorized users to toggle between SIPRnet and government’s non-secure network, NIPRnet. And it would allow the president to have secure voice conversations.

Until recently, government officials typically had to carry multiple devices to perform these tasks.

The ruggedized device is designed to military 810F standards, which makes it reliable in extreme military conditions, and works over the Global System for Mobile Communications, Code Division Multiple Access and Wi-Fi commercial cellular networks. It also incorporates an Integrated Common Access Card, which meets the Defense Department’s identity management and public-key infrastructure standards, and uses Type 1 and Advanced Encryption Standard encryption.

However, the big change for Obama will be the operating system. The Sectéra Edge uses Microsoft Windows Embedded CE operating system, with the usual calendar, contacts, notes and document features. But after years of using RIM’s more user-friendly e-mail, calendar and contact system -- and unfettered access to friends and colleagues compared to a very limited list of contacts now -- Obama is still likely to experience BlackBerry withdrawal symptoms.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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