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Print 81 comment(s) - last by Hieyeck.. on Jan 23 at 11:14 AM

Obama will have to trade his beloved Blackberry for a less sexy, but very secure device

For the vast majority of Americans, we can chat online, send emails, and browse all of the websites we want without much fear of damaging information leaking to powerful enemies. Our smartphones, Blackberry devies, and email may not be that secure, but few of us are in a position where our personal conversations would matter much to anyone else.

The same can’t be said for the President of the United States. President-elect Barrack Obama is a very prolific email user and has said on several occasions that his Blackberry is his most prized gadget.

While Obama could use his Blackberry freely as a Senator, as President he will have to trade his beloved Blackberry in for a less sexy (and user friendly) NSA-approved mobile phone. The reason Obama will need a significantly more secure mobile device is one of national security. Hackers and eavesdroppers could conceivably gain access to private conversations made with the Blackberry. RIM does offer encryption for the Blackberry, but it isn’t up to the standards needed for classified data.

The NSA does have an approved device that Obama can choose once he takes office. The device is the General Dynamics Sectera Edge. The device is a PDA phone that is certified by the NSA to handle top-secret voice communications along with secret email and web sites.

The handset has modules for Wi-Fi, GSM, and CDMA networks. It is said to look like a chunky version of the Palm Treo 750 with an additional display under the keyboard. Price for the Presidential rated handset is $3,350 and it comes with a two-year warranty. The lighter adapter alone costs $100.

The OS for the Sectera is Windows Mobile and includes mobile versions of Word and more. Exactly how the IE browser, well know to be the target of hackers and malicious users, is secured in the handset is unknown. An additional handset will be available at some time in the future from a firm called L-3 communications that is said to be capable of Presidential use.



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Are you a subject matter expert?
By losgringos on 1/14/2009 12:02:43 PM , Rating: 4
Unless you are a subject matter expert on various encryption devices used by government entities please don't make a blanket statement about something you may know nothing about.

The pricetag on this phone is nothing compared to the importance of keeping information classified. The bigger concern about costs is more related to infrastructure than the device itself.

When our fine leaders are needing to communicate in a secure manner, especially related to the protection or our nation, the cost is minimal.




RE: Are you a subject matter expert?
By kkwst2 on 1/14/2009 12:33:28 PM , Rating: 5
It's also dwarfed by the cost of the 6'2" 250# "phone escort" accessory, complete with a SIG P229.

They always get you with the accessories.


By MadMan007 on 1/14/2009 12:49:46 PM , Rating: 5
Maybe he's no expert but you seem to be complaining about something that the author didn't state in a negative way. He simply quoted facts when stating the price, I guess the 'lighter adaptor costs $100 alone' could be interpreted as slightly biased but I took it as a comparison to normal consumer items. It's not like he said '...and there's a $1000 toilet seat option.'


RE: Are you a subject matter expert?
By Moishe on 1/14/2009 1:01:24 PM , Rating: 2
I agree that the phone should not be price limited... but the $100 lighter adapter... well let's just admit right off the bat that it IS being used as a gouging device.

A lighter adapter has one single purpose, which is to transfer a specific current up the wire. There is no security issue there and the technology is very cheap.


RE: Are you a subject matter expert?
By creathir on 1/14/2009 1:12:06 PM , Rating: 4
Not that I know for certain, but if I had to guess, the $100 lighter adapter is to offset the cost of the litigation for approval. Getting one of these guys certified by NSA for use is VERY difficult, and costly, and most government contracts must include EVERYTHING in the certification process.

Just my two cents...
- Creathir


RE: Are you a subject matter expert?
By consumerwhore on 1/14/09, Rating: 0
RE: Are you a subject matter expert?
By TomZ on 1/14/2009 3:10:31 PM , Rating: 5
No, it's a secure wire.


RE: Are you a subject matter expert?
By consumerwhore on 1/14/09, Rating: -1
RE: Are you a subject matter expert?
By ajdavis on 1/14/2009 7:13:19 PM , Rating: 3
Sarcasm...


RE: Are you a subject matter expert?
By consumerwhore on 1/14/09, Rating: 0
RE: Are you a subject matter expert?
By grath on 1/14/2009 8:51:42 PM , Rating: 3
A car adapter plug is large enough to contain a electronic device that performs any number of useful functions. Considering it is plugged into a power source I would even say its ideal, and would be surprised if such a listening device does not exist somewhere. Many devices also pass their data through pins on the same connector as the power, and any potential data connection into the presidents communication device is a concern. I expect that such an accessory would be routinely inspected during security and debugging sweeps of presidential vehicles, which means it would be taken apart to make sure nothing unexpected is inside. I know plenty generic car chargers that you basically have to break to open up, even to get to a fuse thats supposedly replacable. So assuming the accessory is designed to be easily inspected, maybe a better term would be "readily securable," I think its worth $100.


RE: Are you a subject matter expert?
By consumerwhore on 1/14/2009 9:14:18 PM , Rating: 1
Finally... Where were you 4 hours ago?

I'm still unclear as to what one could possibly listen to at the business end of a run-of-the-mill power adapter. As for the "readily securable" argument, couldn't I apply it to anything that comes in contact with the president? How about the steering wheel of the car he's in. Must that also have the feature of being taken apart easily?

As you said, equipment exists to detect bugs and presumably the cars the president rides in get scanned regularly. Why can't they just... er... you know... scan the power cable?


By emoser96 on 1/15/2009 12:18:41 AM , Rating: 2
Something to consider is the TEMPEST emanations issue. It is relatively easy for someone to record any emanations that come from an unsecured wire connected to a secure device. This is why there are requirements to separate black from red lines transmitting power or data. As such, the charger would have to have some sort of attenuation filter as well as having passed tests to verify that no data is transmitted from the phone to the car (any sort of NVM), and that testing is not cheap. It's like the NSA's version of NASA's space certification for lightbulbs...


By Lord 666 on 1/15/2009 5:32:13 AM , Rating: 2
My 2006 Jetta has a standard wall outlet in the back of the center console. If the new Obama limo does not have the same or better negating the need for car adapter, then they need new limo designers. Plus, it would make more sense for a presidential power inverter to be universal versus issuing to just one device.


RE: Are you a subject matter expert?
By Cubexco on 1/15/2009 8:20:59 AM , Rating: 2
Hardly a simple "friggin wire" to carry electric power from point A to B.
If it charges the phone through the phone's USB connector, most likely it converts a car's 12 (or 24) Volt DC to the USB 5V DC.
In any case, if cell-phone manufacturers can charge $30-40 for USB cables, which is actually a wire with connectors at both ends (no active components), $100 for something which isn't mass-produced, isn't way out of line.


By consumerwhore on 1/15/2009 1:50:48 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
if cell-phone manufacturers can charge $30-40 for USB cables, which is actually a wire with connectors at both ends (no active components)


Dude, it is a widely known fact that that is a text book example of price gouging. They charge that amount because of their proprietary plug, that's it.

You're kind of proving my point here...


RE: Are you a subject matter expert?
By Moishe on 1/14/2009 4:41:21 PM , Rating: 2
You're probably right. Plus you've gotta figure the manufacturing run on those devices is very small scale.


By foolsgambit11 on 1/14/2009 7:38:20 PM , Rating: 2
The price may also be partly due to a lack of economies of scale. Since they don't sell many of these phones, they may have to make each adapter separately, rather than bulk order them. Although, it would have been nice if they'd just chosen a universal adapter, I suppose....


By lagomorpha on 1/14/2009 1:27:53 PM , Rating: 1
I imagine the price likely has something to do with General Dynamics being a defense contractor and not generally a commercial phone producer. Combination of low volume and no real need to compete means they can charge what they feel like. I'm surprised it doesn't cost a lot more.


RE: Are you a subject matter expert?
By therealnickdanger on 1/14/2009 1:33:03 PM , Rating: 4
Most modern phones use mini-USB for both power AND data transfer. You never know what ingenious data tool could be disguised as a power adapter only to steal Presidential-level secrets. I would imagine that a special NSA-approved adapter would be preferred to avoid such incidents.


RE: Are you a subject matter expert?
By lagomorpha on 1/14/2009 3:01:51 PM , Rating: 2
In this case "special NSA-approved adapter" should only require having the +5v and ground pins and not having the data pins. Some kind of hologram so that it's difficult to switch it with a fake data grabbing charger without being noticed shouldn't add much to the cost either...


RE: Are you a subject matter expert?
By Guspaz on 1/14/2009 9:45:00 PM , Rating: 2
Cost aside, there's no need for a secure device to be so large. There's no technological reason that the BlackBerry can't be made secure to get NSA approval, it's just probably not financially prudent for RIM to do so.

Of course, I'm also sure that the NSA would probably not even consider the BlackBerry simply because it's made by a foreign company; RIM is Canadian.

Now, if the Prime Minister wanted a BlackBerry... Well, CSIS probably wouldn't care. That and he already has one. President of Uganda gave him one as a gift.


By phxfreddy on 1/15/2009 9:21:08 AM , Rating: 1
Yah really important keeping President SpendALots emails secret. Duh. I can tell you what Obummers emails will contain....

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