U.S. government, military to get ‘secure’ modified Android phones

“Some U.S. officials this year are expected to get smartphones capable of handling classified government documents over cellular networks, according to people involved in the project,” Mark Milian reports for CNN.
“The phones will run a modified version of Google’s Android software, which is being developed as part of an initiative that spans multiple federal agencies and government contractors, these people said,” Milian reports. “The smartphones are first being deployed to U.S. soldiers, people familiar with the project said. Later, federal agencies are expected to get phones for sending and receiving government cables while away from their offices, sources said. Eventually, local governments and corporations could give workers phones with similar software.”

“Officials have said they worry that hackers or rogue apps could tap into the commercial version of Android and spill state secrets to foreign governments or to the Web through a publisher such as WikiLeaks. As many as 5 million Android users may have had their phones compromised by a recent virus outbreak rooted in apps found on Google’s market, said security software maker Symantec,” Milian reports. “But with a secure smartphone, a soldier could see fellow infantry on a digital map, or an official could send an important dispatch from Washington’s Metro subway without fear of security breaches.”

“Still, Apple’s iPhone and iPad are also highly desired among U.S. officials, and people involved in the U.S. smartphone program said their goal is to support any type of smartphone,” Milian reports. “As CNN has reported, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, uses an iPad to read his classified intelligence by downloading cables and disconnecting from the network.”

“However, the government chose to work on Android first because Google already allows people to tinker freely with its code, said those working on the project. Federal officials have met with Apple, but they were told they could not have access to the core of the company’s mobile operating system, said Angelos Stavrou, an information-security director at George Mason University who is working on the government project as a contractor, in a phone interview,” Milian reports. “‘Android was more cooperative in supporting some of the capabilities that we wanted to support in the operating system, whereas Apple was more averse,’ Stavrou told CNN. ‘They’re shifting the strategy now.’”

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