Boeing, NSA phones hint build-your-own may be only way to make Android secure

Giant aircraft-maker joins NSA in effort to make Android secure (with no luck so far)

Boeing execs have quietly announced they intend to get into the smartphone business later this year by building a civilian version of an encrypted, secure version of a phone running Android that it developed under contract for the U.S. government.

Boeing's secure smartphone, the first of which will be aimed at high-end business and government users, will be more expensive than even smartphones from Apple and RIM that sell at a high premium, but not nearly as much as the $15,000 to $20,000 cost of specialized phones with proprietary operating systems and hardware, according to Brian Palma, Boeing VP of secure infrastructure, in an interview with National Defense Magazine.

"We believe that there is significant interest in the defense side as well as the intelligence side and in the commercial world as well," Palma told the magazine.

"The Boeing phone," as the prototypes are being called, will perform like and be as easy to use as ordinary smartphones, but will encrypt data as it is broadcast and as it is stored on the phone, among other additions to bolster security.

Boeing is working with commercial partners in developing the phone, but won't name them and won't say whether the resulting product will carry its brand or a different one.

The end result is likely to look a lot like the prototype phones built by the National Security Agency (NSA) under the code-name "Fishbowl," news of which came out last month.

The phone allows NSA employees to make VoIP calls that route through secure NSA servers rather than the Internet, according to a briefing NSA technical director Margaret Salter gave at the RSA security conference

The phones were built with off-the-shelf components and software to keep them affordable and to create a prototype secure smartphone commercial manufacturers could use as a reference for their own versions, Salter said.

The same setup, with secure, private VoIP servers would require providers to put up their own servers, but they wouldn't have to pay for reference designs or technical data from NSA.

The Fishbowl p[hones are part of a larger effort by NSA to build a variety of mobile-computing devices for NSA employees and their sources of information.

The NSA has given Google advice on security, both on Android and in relation to Google's problems with China.

Any actual security built into Android would be a huge benefit not to mention a huge surprise– to Android users. It's just not clear how serious Boeing is about driving down the cost of its phone and whether secure-Android tech will bleed out to actual consumer versions, rather than the ProSumer version Boeing appears to be developing.

Boeing execs didn't say enough about their own phone to say how closely their phone resembles the NSA's.

They also avoided saying whether the phone would be secure enough that passengers could use them on Boeing airplanes while on the tarmac waiting for takeoff without being kicked off the plane like Alec Baldwin absorbed in a game of Words with Friends.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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