Handheld Gadget Ensures Safe Sharing

July 2007
By Rita Boland

L-3 Communications Systems–East is introducing the L-3 Guardian, a secure mobile environment portable electronic device (SME PED) that provides wireless voice transmission up to Top Secret level and data communications up to Secret level.
Tool sends information at a variety of classifications and fits in a pocket.

A portable device that will be among the first of its kind to incorporate secure voice capability as well as e-mail and personal digital assistant functionality is on schedule for distribution by the end of the year. The device’s features will include secure transmission up to Top Secret level for voice and up to Secret level for data. Its small, integrated package will enable troops to take advantage of these features while they are mobile.

The National Security Agency (NSA) contracted General Dynamics C4 Systems and L-3 Communications Systems–East to develop the secure mobile environment portable electronic device (SME PED). The effort has been underway since June 2005, with fielding expected this year. Each company was required to develop a device that meets the standards for providing converged secure voice and data with Top Secret voice capability and secure e-mail via the secret Internet protocol router network (SIPRNET) on a personal digital assistant device. Both models are ruggedized.

“SME PED utilizes commercial technology to the fullest extent possible in a secure voice and data product and provides functionality and a user experience that is very similar to commercially available products,” says Richard Scalco, chief, Edge Systems Solutions Engineering at the NSA. Both SME PEDs will be fielded, creating competition in the marketplace. L-3 calls its device the L-3 Guardian, and General Dynamics titles its product the Sectéra Edge.

SME PED is a mobile, handheld secure voice and data communications technology through which users will be able to access classified information wirelessly, and it will protect stored data. All data is encrypted so that lost or misplaced information is not compromised. James Diercks, program manager, SME PED, L-3 Communication Systems–East, shares that the system “provides a secure data-at-rest capability that also allows users to store their classified information.”

   A main feature of the device is a push e-mail capability for SIPRNET users. Both versions of SME PED include secure multipurpose Internet mail extensions encryption—a commercial-off-the-shelf technology for sensitive but unclassified security. 

   Push e-mail technology sends information that would go to a desktop computer in an office automatically to the handheld. Pull e-mail is Web-based, such as Hotmail, and requires users to log into an account. According to Tom Liggett, Sectéra Edge product manager at General Dynamics C4 Systems, “the push technology has never been done in a secure mode before.”

   Push e-mail is one feature that makes SME PED unique in the acquisition arena. Diercks states, “There is no other device like this on the market today.” The product combines Secure Communications Interoperability Protocol (SCIP) and High Assurance Internet Protocol Encryptor (HAIPE) Type 1 security, the latest commercial technology, a Windows-based user interface and multimedia applications all on a small, light mobile device. “It is the start of a new generation of secure wireless products that will provide new wireless capabilities to the warfighter,” Diercks says.

Diercks anticipates the development of a generation of wireless tablets and other devices that complement what already is on the market. “I think that may be dictated by the warfighters and what their needs are,” he states.

Liggett agrees that SME PED is peerless in today’s market. A unique feature of the device will allow high-speed wireless access into the SIPRNET and the nonsecure Internet protocol router network (NIPRNET). “Today there really is no means for a mobile government user to access those networks wirelessly,” Liggett notes. 

According to developers, SME PED will provide a significant advantage to warfighters because they currently cannot take their secure information with them when they are on the move. The developers expect secure e-mail to be the driver application, at least initially. In addition, the small size of the device enhances the mobile advantage. Troops and other personnel can slip SME PED into a pocket or clip it to a belt.

General Dynamics C4 Systems is developing the Sectéra Edge SME PED for the National Security Agency. The device utilizes commercial-off-the-shelf technology for secure voice and data functionality and is ruggedized. Fielding of the technology is expected to take place later this year.  
SME PED takes advantage of the latest commercially available technology, adding specialized hardware and software to provide specific functionality as necessary. “The specific implementation details to meet performance as well as security requirements have been left to the ingenuity and creativeness of the contractors developing the product,” Scalco states.

Advances in the electronics miniaturization of cell phone and personal digital assistant technology have allowed both General Dynamics and L-3 to create a specialized product with form, fit and functionality similar to other commercial products. “These market advances also directly supported the SME PED development time frame of 24 months start to finish,” Scalco says.

Both L-3 and General Dynamics use an NSA-mandated development milestone strategy. This provides data and documentation through the development process to support Information Assurance Directorate certification for the processing of classified information.

In addition, the strategy supports the Defense Integrated Switched Network Security Architecture Working Group (DSAWG) requirements. DSAWG is the approving body for connection to the SIPRNET and approves SME PED and supporting architecture for access to the SIPRNET. It also allows SME PED to be used on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security secret network.

   The same strategy supports Commercial Carrier certification enabling SME PED to be used on the commercial dual-band code division multiple access (CDMA) and the quad-band global system for mobile communications (GSM) systems. The use of these frequencies allows the device to communicate worldwide.

   Diercks states, “Our SME PED also utilizes replaceable radio frequency module technology so that a CDMA SME PED can be converted to a GSM SME PED if a user so desires.” General Dynamics’ Sectéra Edge has interchangeable modules for CDMA and GSM, and it will have a Wi-Fi module available.

   Liggett shares that the General Dynamics product interoperates with wireline terminals and secure terminal equipment. Customers have expressed interest in the feature that supports a U.S. Defense Department Public Key Infrastructure-enabled common access card (CAC). “That’s an emerging requirement that’s really becoming prevalent especially in the Army right now,” Liggett explains. L-3’s Guardian also provides CAC support.

Another security feature of the Sectéra Edge Liggett mentions is the secret compartmented information facilities (SCIF) friendly mode, in which a single button press disables all the wireless function on the device so it can be carried into a SCIF or another secure location. “That’s not on any other device,” Liggett says. A press of a button also switches from red to black communications.

Both SME PEDs are backward compatible with the existing protocol of fielded SCIP and HAIPE products. Liggett, Scalco and Diercks all say the technology can enable secure communications among first responders, Homeland Security personnel and state and federal government officials.

Liggett also mentions two other user communities that will benefit from SME PED. One of those groups is strategic users—mainly military officers and senior staff—who need BlackBerry capabilities and access to secure e-mail. “That’s the killer application, the secure wireless e-mail,” he shares. The other community consists of tactical users who would employ the device in field missions.

Liggett expects the device to field initially to flag officers and senior staff because they currently use BlackBerries. SME PED can replace the BlackBerry or work in conjunction with it. In addition to connecting with the NIPRNET and SIPRNET, SME PED can work in a nonsecure mode to interoperate with conventional commercial devices, and it could support a coalition mode. Liggett believes tactical users down to the brigade level also will receive the device and says that General Dynamics developers want to leverage the tactical distribution into major U.S. Army programs such as Land Warrior.

General Dynamics and L-3 developers have worked to create a system that looks and operates similar to commercial products. With the familiar design, users have an intuitive knowledge of how to operate the device instead of having to learn to use another type of technical equipment. Both also run the Windows software program.

Other software is available for the product as well. Through pre-programmed product improvement, SME PED offers flexibility to the user community. In this effort, signed software updates add new and additional functionality to the baseline platform. “This functionality provides maximum flexibility for the user community,” Scalco says. “They [users] can make a capital investment in the SME PED that provides baseline functionality, and then as technology evolves [in 12 to 18 months], new functionality can be added to the baseline SME PED product via software updates.”

Both SME PED vendors are creating their systems by integrating custom-developed hardware platforms with commercial components. The customized hardware provides the foundation for a secure platform. Security architectures are designed into the product initially rather than after it has been developed.

SME PED converges several technologies and functions from current secure products including the secure voice application. The Top Secret voice capability is integrated with SME PED to provide maximum flexibility for the user and to allow a maximum backward compatibility to fielded wireline secure voice assets.

Pilot groups have tested the SME PED engineering development models (EDMs) and provided feedback to the program management office, which will forward it to the product developers. “Most feedback has been positive on the limited capabilities of the EDM,” Scalco says.

Web Resources
National Security Agency: www.nsa.gov
General Dynamics C4 Systems: www.gdc4s.com
L-3 Communications Systems–East: www.l-3com.com/cs-east


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