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Air Force seeks mobile security innovations

Jan. 7, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
eTools Lite
Tech. Sgt. Darren Montefu, 920th Rescue Wing reserve aircraft maintenance engineer, performs a pre-flight inspection using a semi-rugged commercial mobile device as a technical data reader, part of Air Force Reserve Command's eTools Lite initiative. These devices were used during the Wing's recently successful HQ ACC/IG Operational Readiness Inspection, which noted '...the unit's superb use of technical data.' Montefu was recognized as a Superior Performer and received the ACC/IG General's Coin. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Leslie Forshaw) ()

The Air Force is looking for innovative ways to secure smartphones and tablet computers without diminishing the devices’ nifty features and apps.

One approach the Air Force is exploring involves storing the digital identities found on Common Access Cards inside Micro SD cards, which can then be inserted into smartphones. The service is also considering the use of near-field communication — a wireless technology feature that among other things allows devices in close proximity to share data. The Air Force is considering NFC as an alternative to using bulky CAC card readers.

“Commercial mobile devices on their own, with standard configuration, are not secure enough for government use,” the Air Force said in a recent broad agency announcement. The challenge is securing government data, while maintaining all the functionality of the commercial device itself, the notice said.

In the announcement, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Information Directorate detailed its plans to focus on securing data sharing, cyber defense and improving cloud, mobile and tactical computing operations. For now, the Air Force is seeking industry white papers on what solutions would best meet the service’s needs, but some vendors may be asked to submit technical and cost proposals later on.

The announcement includes general focus areas and specific priorities through fiscal 2018. The Air Force has set aside $24 million over that time period to fund its research. White papers for fiscal 2015 focus ares are due Jan. 30.

Tthe Air Force’s interests for 2015 include dynamic mobile device management for Androids and other devices, according to the notice on

“In order to provide secure containers for multiple compartments within mobile devices, a dynamic method to manage mobile devices using a secure operating system (such as Security Enhanced-Android) is required,” according to the notice. The MDM solution must provide an array of capabilities, including the ability to wipe the device of data remotely if it is compromised and continuously asses the security state of the device.

In June, the Defense Information Systems Agency awarded a $16 million contract to technology firm DMI to provide MDM capabilities for the military. DISA officials have said initial capabilities will roll out this month but has not said which defense components have agreed to use the solution.

Secure data containers are another area of focus the Air Force will explore in fiscal 2016. Specifically, the service wants to demonstrate a method for generating, securing and safely destroying secure data containers within recent versions of the Android mobile operating system. Secure containers hold app data on mobile devices and prevent certain apps from accessing sensitive or proprietary data stored on the device.

In fiscal 2016, the Air Force will focus on developing a mobile application that fully uses the available biometric sensors, such as the GPS, camera, fingerprint reader and microphone and can securely transmit recorded data for analysis, identification purposes and other uses. ■

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