Army tests comprehensive plan for wireless services

Approach addresses security, apps issues for soldier smart phones

It’s been no secret that the Army has plans to issue smart phones to its soldiers. The service is also the lead agency in an effort to greatly increase wireless services, either through smart phones or tablet computers, across the Defense Department.

Speaking April 14 at a conference hosted by the Association for Federal Information Resource Management in Washington, D.C., a DOD official highlighted some of the aspects of the Army’s wireless efforts being managed through Army Knowledge Online, which runs the primary portal that allows Army personnel to access information from military networks.

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In 2008, the Army wanted to expand AKO and looked at mobile applications as one solution, said Air Force Lt. Col. Anmy Torres, director of Secure Go Mobile at the Defense Information Systems Agency. Her group represents all mobile customers in the portal.

AKO examined how to put mobility into the portal with commercial applications. The service has already approved and certified Windows Mobile 6.5 and 7.0 applications for use, said Torres, who is the only Air Force officer on the AKO staff. Users also wanted iPads and other types of devices, she said. The Army is  negotiating with the other services for the broader use of wireless devices and applications.

The Army also is leading efforts to use commercial devices in DOD. One challenge is securing wireless devices. The service has been meeting since 2010 to mitigate security risks. The AKO can lock down BlackBerrys that have been lost or stolen and the goal is to now apply similar requirements for other handhelds, Torres said.

To support additional mobility, Army Go Mobile had to make changes to its back end by modifying its servers. One of the challenges facing the effort was the need for the system to identify specific mobile devices and applications. Because of security concerns, it was necessary to ensure that devices could not be compromised.

One of the AKO’s needs is to identify a device in the right price range that it can widely issue to personnel while ensuring security and integrity. Creating the back end for the system was the easy part, Torres said. The challenge is integrating in all the other tools, applications and devices within budget limitations.

The Army’s Go Mobile effort is now undergoing a limited deployment. AKO has teams trying to break into the system’s software container, an application that is encrypted and smart-card accessed on a soldier’s smart phone or tablet computer, Torres said. When a container is open, all other applications are locked down. When the container is closed, the device’s civilian applications can be used. If the device is compromised, it will not work because no container data is stored in the device.

Part of the limited deployment is a risk assessment effort. Security gaps exist in the Android and iPhone devices now in use, Torres said. The Army also is leading DOD with its testing and deployment of these devices, she added. The AKO helped DISA develop the Army’s Android standard, which will soon be ready for release.

Besides the Army, Torres said the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working with other organizations in DOD to use iPads to replace the bulky notebooks officials use in classified meetings. DARPA removed the Bluetooth device in the iPad, which prevents them from transmitting data, but left the tablets otherwise unmodified.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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