America’s National Security Agency is tasked with monitoring and gathering information and intelligence that helps to maintain the safety and security of the United States. An essential component of this mission is the ability to communicate securely, without fear of interception, and with this in mind, SC Magazine Australia reports that the NSA’s Information Assurance Directorate (IAD) division set about designing its own smartphone device for use by US government officials.
Known as the ‘Fishbowl’, the handset runs a modified version of Google’s Android operating system, and is capable of making fully encrypted calls, affording users the ability to speak freely via their mobile devices, rather than having to obfuscate with code words. In line with NSA policies, voice calls are dual-encrypted.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the devices is that they’re built using off-the-shelf components available to anyone. The NSA’s Margaret Salter explained that “the plan was to buy commercial components, layer them together and get a secure solution. It uses solely commercial infrastructure to protect classified data.”
The software side of things is proprietary though. In addition to undisclosed modifications made to the Android OS, a customised VoIP app was also developed, which routes all voice calls through NSA servers. An ultra-secure app store has also been created, from which users will be able to install apps approved and signed by the US Defense Information Systems Agency; only apps approved by DISA will be installable on Fishbowl handsets.
Salter added that a “kind of police app”, pre-installed on the device, monitored applications, presumably to ensure that users aren’t engaging in any ‘unapproved’ activities with their handsets.
Given all of the security surrounding the device though, you may be surprised to learn that the NSA is actually sharing some of the security specifications publicly, in the hope that manufacturers and operators may adopt some of the technologies and apply them commercially. Salter said that the specs, such as those for the VoIP app, would have broader usefulness beyond Fishbowl.
So far, 100 Fishbowl handsets have been issued to government staff.