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Security: “Mulder, It’s Me,” Feds and Cyber Threats, Jammers Raise More Warnings

By Mark Devlin

March 12, 2012

MIB Publishes Starter Plan for Super-Secure Android Phone

You're no longer part of the System. You are above the System. Over it. Beyond it. We're 'them'. We're 'they'. We are the Men in Black. –Zed

Okay, so there really aren’t Men in Black. (Uh-huh.) If there were, they’d likely be connected to the NSA.

I’ve always wondered, “What kind of encryption/scrambling tech do federal spooks use to secure mobile communications?

Well, now we have at least an idea of how they plan to do so in the future, since the National Security Agency has published information regarding the first phase of the Enterprise Mobility Architecture—secure VoIP using commercial-grade products. (Here’s a link to the EMA description.)

Plus, they’ve actually built the hardware—with off-the-shelf components.

The so-called ‘Fishbowl’ phones were designed and built by the 40 year-old Information Assurance Directorate, responsible for providing secure communications to the NSA, DoD, and other federal pieces of the security and intelligence puzzle.

According to this article at Security Magazine (via Slashdot)…

“The plan was to buy commercial components, layer them together and get a secure solution,” [Division head Margaret] Salter said. “It uses solely commercial infrastructure to protect classified data.”

Salter said she would previously need to “speak in code” if using a commercial mobile device to discuss classified information.

Users will even have their own app store to (hopefully) ensure that only secure apps are installed on those in-use, ultra-secure Android phones, about 100 of which are already in-use.


The above graphic depicts a Fishbowl overview. Voice calls are twice-encrypted.

Here’s a bit more from Gizmodo

The handsets will rely on an unidentified VOIP app, similar to Skype, that routes calls through NSA servers (kind of like what they already do with everybody else's).

As a side note, the U.S. State Department has also blessed the Google Chrome browser as an accepted alternative to IE8. Here’s more, directly from Google. Not surprising, since the already-blurred line between Google and government is today only visible under a microscope.

As yet another aside, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is expected to drop Blackberries in favor of iPhones. Tick-tock, RIM.


Hacking and Cyberwar: Feds Waking Up

War, national interests, and security don’t only involve only planes, ships, tanks, and ordnance. Finally, it seems that the government is seriously considering cyber-threats, perhaps of the types discussed in Richard A. Clarke’s Cyber War (which, by the way, is an excellent book).


According to this article at VentureBeat, the DoD is dedicating $5B on six preparations for cyber war, including…

1. Developing and preparing to use weapons of cyber warfare
2. Preparing the U.S. for what the battlefield may look like
3. Listening for and analyzing defense intelligence over the Internet
4. Defending both classified and unclassified networks
5. Creating technology using the DOD’s and the NSA’s “weight and resources” and distributing them to Homeland Security, law enforcement agencies, and partners
6. Protecting these tools and infrastructure with the military.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter finally says from on high that which I’ve been screaming about for a couple of years…

“The market, both economic and political, undervalues security at the moment. Doesn’t see it. Doesn’t fully get it. This is wrong, this is a mistake.”

That means manufacturing and other industries, too.

Surprise! FBI’s Mueller Apparently Agrees with Ashton Carter

In a sort of federal cyber double-shock, FBI director Robert S. Mueller recently warned Congress of terrorist hacking, according to this ZDNet article (via Slashdot).

Here’s an excerpt of what Mueller said to a ‘House appropriations subcommittee reviewing the FBI budget’…

To date, terrorists have not used the Internet to launch a full-scale cyber attack, but we cannot underestimate their intent. Terrorists have shown interest in pursuing hacking skills. And they may seek to train their own recruits or hire outsiders, with an eye toward pursuing cyber attacks. These adaptations of the terrorist threat make the FBI’s counterterrorism mission that much more difficult and challenging.


Yes, Mr. Mueller. It’s correct to be worried, especially considering that, as of March 8, sixteen individuals allegedly related to hacktivist group Anonymous have been arrested and charged in more than 10 states. While Anonymous has wreaked considerable havoc, imagine what organized, well-funded terrorists could access and/or bring down.

Personally? I believe we’re only a few years away (five, tops) from a real-life Life Free or Die Hard-style fire sale (national cyber attack).

Questionable upshot? The FBI might get just a ‘budget bump.’

Obnoxious Cell Phone Talkers Annoying You?

It’s not the right thing to do, but I can’t really blame the guy in Philly who recently screwed on the antenna and flipped the switch on his cell phone jammer while using public transportation. According to the related piece from a Philadelphia news station…

The man, who calls himself Eric, told the NBC10 Investigators, “I guess I’m taking the law into my own hands, and quite frankly, I’m proud of it.”

Eric says he doesn’t want to hear people talking on their cell phones in public.

“It’s still pretty irritating, and quite frankly, it’s pretty rude,” said Eric.

Eric says he’s firing up a cell phone jammer that he bought online to shut down conversations he doesn’t want to hear.

Federal law prohibits the ownership of such jammers, covered recently on IEN.

Not only is there a $16,000 fine, but jammer use causes a serious public safety concern, says Drexel University’s Dr. Rob D’Ovidio…

“With cell phone jammers, you are limiting all types of communication tools that use the radio frequencies. You have the potential to cause a public safety disaster. Cutting off communication by not only our public officials to their dispatch centers but also cutting off the public’s communication to 911 can be a dangerous thing,” said Dr. D’Ovidio.

My problem with it? If they’re illegal, nail those who are making and freely selling jammers. After all, it’s relative easy to think, ‘Hey, if a jammer’s this easily available, it must be legal. Look! They take PayPal!’

Watch for considerably more jammer use, especially in our increasingly “There is no you, there is only me” society. Hopefully, no laid-off, disgruntled, assembly line worker will use one against a manufacturing facility. Hmm, I smell a sequel. Falling Down: Digital Edition.

Here’s another interesting and related article at Slate.

Stay secure out there.

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