March 04, 2012, 7:42 AM — America's intelligence agency, the National Security Agency (NSA), today disclosed how it's going to handle mobile security.
The NSA has come up with a security design that currently depends on Google Android smartphones, though the NSA contends it doesn't want to be wedded to any particular smartphone operating system. But its current "Fishbowl" phones, as they are called, are beefed-up highly secured Motorola Android smartphones that use double-encryption for voice traffic and a unique routing scheme for 3G network traffic back to the NSA first for security purposes. This design makes them suitable for classified information sharing with other like smartphones, according to Margaret Salter, technical director at NSA's information assurance directorate, who spoke about the so-called "Fishbowl" project, which today focuses on voice use of smartphones, at a session here today at the RSA Conference.
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"We wanted to use the commercial standards that are out there," said Margaret Salter, technical director in NSA's information assurance directorate. "We wanted plug and play — but that was hard." The NSA also wants interoperability in order not to be trapped in vendor ok-in, but this is turning out to be hard to achieve.
The NSA looked at SSL VPN as a standard and left no stone unturned in exploring commercial SSL VPN for mobile, but found utter lack of interoperability across vendor products. Salter said NSA also was frustrated with the lack of interoperability in Unified Communications Systems (UCS) products, noting that buying one piece often meant buying several others, there being little evidence of multi-vendor interoperability. So with some frustration, NSA changed to go with an open-source Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) server for the present.
NSA also switched its mobile security strategy toward IPSec VPN, where things looked better in terms of interoperability than SSL VPN, and selected the Secure Real-Time Transport Protocol for Voice App and Transport Layer Security (TLS) with keys. This all means "the voice call is doubly encrypted," Salter said. "There's VoIP encryption and IPsec encryption."