Smartphones

Why can't President Obama keep his Blackberry?

President Obama wants to to keep in touch with people in a manner he's accustomed to. Can a technological powerhouse like the United States government figure out how to make it so? Let's find out.

I’m sure all of us are excited that our new president is a card-carrying techie. According to every source I’ve read, President Obama is the first ever (geeks can, and now, do rule). My first inkling of this came earlier this month when reporters kept asking (at the time) President-Elect Obama about keeping his smartphone, and he responded, “I'm still clinging to my BlackBerry.” I didn’t quite understand the line of questions, but I’m with you Mr. President (image courtesy of CNN).

Apparently, all sorts of regulations and security concerns were going to force President Obama to relinquish his Blackberry. I realize that being the president involves special circumstances, but come on. With all the technical horsepower in the federal government, they should be able to make this happen.

Buzz on the Internet

It appears there’s a solution in the making, according to the buzz on the tech forums. President Obama has prevailed, and in typical Hollywood fashion, everyone is trying to get the scoop as to what President Obama will be using.

Engadget offers an opinion of what’s what. In the article "Dear Mainstream Media: Obama's New Phone Might Not Be a BlackBerry, Might Not Be a Phone, and He Might Not Be Getting It," Joshua Topolsky quotes an Atlantic article by Marc Ambinder, who stated:

“With few exceptions, government Blackberries aren't designed for encryption that protects messages above the "SECRET" status, so it's not clear whether Obama is getting something new and special.”

Something new and special

The “something new and special” that has everyone curious is apparently the Sectera Edge by General Dynamics. Quite simply, the Sectera Edge is the Panasonic Toughbook of smart phones.

CNN feels that it’s the only logical choice. To that end, Erica Ogg of CNET News posted a video by CNN that describes the Sectera Edge, and I must say, it’s a really cool device. The phone layout is shown in the following image (courtesy of General Dynamics):

History behind the Sectera Edge

The Sectera Edge was specifically designed and built for the US government. The 18-million dollar contract was managed by NSA and was part of a DoD project called SME-PED, which means the device meets most federal security requirements.

Runs on Windows

What may surprise many of you is that the Sectera Edge runs on secure Windows CE. I was surprised; still Windows CE is certified for Top Secret voice communications, Secret e-mail, and Secret Web sites. The device has three interchangeable modules allowing it to use GSM, CDMA, or Wi-Fi. The cost is $3,350 US. The Sectera Edge and its accessories seem to have the government offset factored in because a lighter plug power adapter costs $100 US.

Final thoughts

The jury is still out, but we'll eventually learn what device President Obama is using. I for one am glad that it was doable. The fact that the President of the United States wants to keep in contact with his constituents personally seems like a good thing.

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Information is my field...Writing is my passion...Coupling the two is my mission.

251 comments
jjt3d
jjt3d

Does anybody honestly think that, as stated in the article, "the President of the United States wants to keep in contact with his constituents personally"? His constituents? Are you kidding??? His constituents??? So, apoparently you techies are drinking the Kool-Aid, too. Pity.

JohnnyBee
JohnnyBee

If Obama is dumb enough to jeopardize National Security and perhaps even that of his family because of his sickness (addition to blackberry/texting/etc), then we should begin IMPEACHMENT immediately!

NCWeber
NCWeber

I understand from ZDNet News that the Sectera Edge is on the outs, and the NSA has updated security on Obama's Blackberry.

jsbell
jsbell

Bad policy is bad enough when implemented slowly and inefficiently. Bad policy at light speed is something the Founders probably never contemplated. Now our freedoms can be eroded so fast we won't be able to react in time to save them. Love tech, hate tech. BTW, do you not think the Chinese have a few million geeks of their own who will be working day and night to hack the President's Sectera (or whatever)? Talk about an attractive target! Are there rules about what modes of communication can be used to send nuke codes back and forth? Just wondering ...

stephen.holland
stephen.holland

Shock horror, down here in Australia we have solved the problem, our financial institutions are not able to have customer data held in a foreign country, eg Canada. Solution: Implement a BES Server on your own network that is accessed OTA with your blackberry. The security profile is so tight you can do the email things and telephone things, use the browsers sorry "security settings prohibit access to this functionality. All this on GSM and 3G networks...

admin
admin

Simply give the President a secure walki-talky that encripts his voice. Rout it through the NSA (Who is always monitoring us anyway. ) Have it transcribed into a e-mail, send it to a cia courier, who prints it out and hand delivers it to the reciepient. Problem solved and it keeps people employeed.

admin
admin

testing- I know your listining.

sboussayoud
sboussayoud

I suggest that Mr.President Obama use an Iphone 3G since it is UNIX based, and security is more enhanced my_safo@hotmail.com

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

You may know better than I, but I heard President Obama say that. I guess I'm an eternal optimist and hope that he meant it.

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

Michael, do you REALLY think that at the highest levels of security, either the military, the NSA, or the Secret Service are going to tell anyone exact details? They're generally not given to doing things to make life easier for someone wanting to hack or crack their systems. Or monitor the President's activities. Or to target him. Etc. Even when the military or NSA does allow press releases about some new thing they have and use. And somebody like Popular Science magazine, the Discovery Channel, or whomever has some long article about it or TV show ... certain things are not shown, mentioned, or even hinted at. And the data and hard facts that are released ... often aren't exactly all entirely ... accurate. If numbers are actually released; such as ranges, frequency spectrum capabilities, speed, power, etc; those numbers are usually ... artificial ones. Carefully considered. Selected so as to be believable, even under examination by subject matter experts. While at the same time being ... misleading, not revealing too much. But the best security tactic is simply silence. No one who doesn't have the appropriate NEED to know is even given hints, much less hard information. I'm retired Navy. As an example of the kind of thing I'm talking about, I was once assigned to a nuclear aircraft carrier. During the time I was aboard, that aircraft carrier underwent a certain sort of repairs and upgrades. Of a nature such that when all those things were complete, we were required to re-certify the carrier. That is, to test it so as to prove it could meet certain design performance criteria. Part of that testing involved high speed runs and full combat evasive maneuvering tests. Virtually NO crew members of that aircraft carrier, of any aircraft carrier in the U.S. Navy, actually know FOR REAL what those ships are capable of doing. They're simply told the "for public release" numbers. And in the normal course of events and normal operation, an aircraft carrier RARELY ever has to make the speeds, nor do the type of maneuvering she is truly capable of doing. For one, we don't wish to reveal too much, for another ... Chuckle ... it can be a bit of a wild ride during which things can get damaged and personnel injured or even killed. In any event, I was a direct participant in the exercise as I was the senior engineering type with the most knowledge about certain aspects of ship that affected it's maneuvering abilities. The ship's Captain himself, knew THEORETICALLY what she was capable of. But I was the subject matter expert and the only one aboard who'd actually ever done this sort of testing before for real. I knew exactly what certain critical numbers (as concerns power, torque, pressures, etc) were as concerns "could she handle it or not" as we were forcing her through certain maneuvers. (sailors always refer to their ships as SHE) Anyway, we did the testing. Out on the open ocean out of sight of prying eyes. That includes satellite eyes. LMAO .... a lot of crew members afterwards had this surprised look in their eyes, and were muttering "Damnnnnn !" or other words to the same effect. They'd not realized, even those who served multiple tours on multiple aircraft carriers, that a ship of that size could do the things we'd just done. But to the point. During that exercise certain instruments and indicators were covered so that not even crew members, except a select FEW, could know critical information. Such as how fast we were going, how tight we could turn, torque on the shafts, RPMs, engine power output, etc. There weren't more than 5 total out of a crew of thousands who ever knew all those numbers. Even those involved on the bridge and in the engine rooms, were only allowed to see data they HAD to know to perform their individual functions. For instance, even I, as a key player (I was personally controlling those maneuvers) was not told or allowed to see the data about reactor plant power levels, etc except in a general way. i.e. All I was told as I did certain maneuvers was "We're in the green and good to go." as versus, "We're approaching Red." which would have been a warning that we were reaching some critical conditions of pressure, temperature, etc. We didn't BTW, not even close. I was told that much, later. But as I didn't have the "need to know" I wasn't told more than that. I am highly doubtful that they're ever gonna tell us any details about the President's phone/email device. And IF they ever do, I'll be 100% sure that they've replaced it with something else better ... while probably failing to mention that fact.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

they would'nt want to confirm anything at this point. Who knows, maybe they are throwing everyone off track by not even using a wireless device at all :0

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

yeah, that seems like rational and well thought out planning.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Can you provide the link? I've heard that too over the past few weeks and there's certainly some confusion. Several writers say that people are using Blackberry as a generic term even though it maybe be the Sectera. I also have seen some videos of President Obama at the press room. He had the device in his hand and it was significantly larger than a Blackberry. Cool, may be getting to the bottom of this finally.

Keith Hailey
Keith Hailey

If trying to convince some middle eastern warlord that something is not a good Idea, and the warlord is a bit too stubborn to go along, three words, "Fire 'em Up", from the Prez over the hands-free could send the most convincing fireworks display from seemingly nowehere that you could imagine. Once the warlord finished wetting himself, I'm quite sure that he would be convinced to go along anything he was told. And that's the problem with a device like this. Not Comsec. But the ability to appear as a god in the eyes of many people. Power like that, well, it's not exactly a good thing. To the military, The Prez is the boss. If you've got predetermined coordinates to fire upon, and you get the word, especially straight from the boss, the spot is toast. And the aircraft would be nowhere in sight. All the locals know is that "This man calls fire down from heaven". Seems like Elijah did this once before on top of a mountain with only the help of God and showed up a bunch of would be preachers of some strange religion. (That's what all the current wars are over, our government sometimes doesn't seem to get it, though) Now, we have a Prez that can simulate the same thing. Seems I've read a warning about that happenning somewhere in a book that no one reads much any more. Hmmm.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I get accused of being the eternal optimist. I look at this as a concerted effort by President Obama to keep in direct contact with people that put him in office.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

There will be times when the President, like the other meeting members, will be required to not have a mobile device or be able to remove the battery to show that the device is truly disabled during the discussion. iPhone may be osX based but it has some other limitations that void it's use security wise.

boomchuck1
boomchuck1

eMail security is not up to par on the iPhone 3G or earlier. That's why it is largely being shunned by business in favor of the BB.

melekali
melekali

...then I'll believe he wants to keep in contact with constituents. Obviously not just anyone can call the President of the US.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Maybe he narrows his eyes for, "No", and wiggles one ear for, "Yes", before he launches a thousand ships.

JohnnyBee
JohnnyBee

What kool-aid have you been drinking? I said nothing about Bush! You are ditsy!

pcrx_greg
pcrx_greg

I don't agree with the president being asked to give up his phone. What I disagree with is giving him a phone and telling everybody in the world the kind of phone that he is using. Telling everyone what he is using allows hackers to specifically target the type of phone that he uses. Keeping it secret would at least add a layer of security in that foreign governments and people with bad intentions might have a harder time in cracking the security. Telling them what he is using is like waving a red flag at a bull and telling hackers that we dare you to try to break our security.

Old-Fart-IV
Old-Fart-IV

Not that difficult to have device run in stealth recording mode on hidden battery (placed in device where casual looker would never find it) Most meetings that I've attended in "secure" areas (Discussing Govt or Company Secrets) required all participants to check our electronic devices (cell, pda, bluetooth devices, laptop, etc) and guns at the facility entrance. They either had individual lockers, or the guard had security bags that locked -- put your stuff in and then keep key until you leave. Edited to add "bluetooth devices (I don't use one on my Phone, so I forget about those silly looking things hanging on everyone's ears)

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

The iPhone battery life is far less than any other smart phone I have used. Blackberry, Windows 6.1, Nokia and Android. I'm not talking about Wi-Fi or any extravagant usage. I suspect the large screen is the culprit. Yet that the feature that I love the most. Oh well.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

It's entirely dependent on the carrier. I suspect that the federal government is a bit concerned about relying on servers that aren't even in country.

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

Reality is not like the movies. The President, any U.S. President, CAN NOT directly, all on his own ... launch a 1000 ships. Or 1000 planes, or a 1000 nukes. Etc. Our system does not work like that.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Nah, I was done after my second response to our young Troll; and our Troll did not disappoint. It's posting history speaks for itself so any further noise from it can be ignored. I respond to you only santee; another technology professional and TR regular with a strong history.

JohnnyBee
JohnnyBee

Neon, more like blinders on! LOL! Oh did I make a funny? LOL! Yes I said that you are a moron who is addicted to this forum and especially to me! How pathetic are you? Very! Oh, and don't bother responding, you forum troll (LOL), as I am removing this forum from my alerts. Bye Bye Have a nice day! ROFLMFAO!!!!!!!

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

You suggest impeaching the president because he wishes to use a mobile device; impeach Obama over a mobile phone. You can't understand the comparison to a president who left office with the lowest approval ratings after lieing the country into a war yet was never impeached. hm.. impeach a president for using blackberry versus impeaching a president for truly criminal misconduct.. Don't both responding.. it's obvious your nothing more than a forum troll else you would have supported your comments in even the remotest ways.

Keith Hailey
Keith Hailey

How do you know that Bush didn't use the Sectera already. The thing didn't appear overnight.

JohnnyBee
JohnnyBee

Did I say "ditsy"----ugh----NO. Did Bush use a blackberry?-----NO! Here is a good psychologist number for you that I am sure will be able to help you: 1-800-IST-UPID! FOFLMAO!!!

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

" If Obama is dumb enough to jeopardize National Security and perhaps even that of his family because of his sickness (addition to blackberry/texting/etc), then we should begin IMPEACHMENT immediately! " So, you suggested impeachment of the new Pres Obama because he dares suggest using a mobile phone. You suggest this within the first few weeks of his presidency after eight years of Bush and four'ish years the "Impeach Bush" movement. Maybe it's madness to look at more than teh last few weeks in US politics but tell me again who's ditsy.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I've been checking all sorts of video and haven't been able to determine anything. I also have recently read the Sectera has a phone that doesn't have an external antenna. So that complicates the search.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

It'll take five minutes or less before someone with a camera gets a shot of the phone and then that advantage provided by keeping the choice obscure is gone. Security comes from authentication mechanisms not obscurity.

Keith Hailey
Keith Hailey

General Dynamics - Ring any Bells? You actually believe that a Hacker stands a chance of hacking into the network onboard of an F-16? And that's been around for a while. It's been made public. Think F-117 - Ditto on the hackers. The only reason it was made public was because one crashed on a freeway (Kinda hard to hide) Think The Operating Systems (Plural) are Classified. Think Intel or AMD DO NOT make their Processors. Think How many processor cores can you fit in one square centimeter (Hint: Intel cores are HUGE) Think How many different operating systems can you run on ONE processor core at a time if you don't count virtual machines. Think How many operating systems can run on the amount of processor cores that can fit into one cubic centimeter at the same time. Think Do you really think that telling the world what kind of phone it is is going to help a hacker, even a machine code hacker, the least little bit? Even telling that Windows CE is running on it (only one core, mind you, or possibly in a virtual machine on one core) would make a bit of difference. Anyone attempting would be toasted and reported by the cores that are watching the backs of the other cores. (Prison time, fer shur, IF you survive the encounter) Think Redundant Systems (i.e. back-up for the back-up for the back-up) True world wide communications, no blackouts or coverage holes, anywhere. Viruses, Again, toasted if they were to even remotely find a way near the system. Think We only hear the occasional reports on nano-technology. You think those boys sit on their thumbs all day? I don't really think that they are exactly bored with their field. And they've been at it for, How many years? (How large of a network can be fit into a thimble?) So, What do you think now. I'd give up my blueberry, if I had one, for the Sectera if I needed completely secure communications, anywhere, anytime under any conditions. When people relate weapons grade equipment to toys like iPhones and Blackberries (or whatevery berry it is), they're talking out of their Donky and showing just how much a clue they really don't have about IT. But, don't feel bad. Just THINK. Don't get stuck in a box or you stay in a box. Think. I wonder what's in that phone that we AREN'T being told about. Bet it's cool. Take care, Keith

Keith Hailey
Keith Hailey

as far as the cool tools. I miss them most. I also second what you said about China. Since Sam Walton died, his company and others and parts of the government have basically sold us to them. They own more of us than we do, if that mames any sense. Not to mention their excercises of attacks against us. Watching those, well, actions speak louder than words and can't hide behind a smile.

Old-Fart-IV
Old-Fart-IV

It use to be easier to ID the players :) It was over 10 years ago that I took a different career path -- I stopped "participating in the game" for the government 3-letter players (DOD, Nxx, etc). I have returned to the fringe of the game by through Business Intelligence (aka spying/espionage & data collection/analysis). Just wish I could use some of the "cool" tools the GOV has for examining exploits and counter measures -- it would allow those who think China is our friend to see "reality". Remember the famous saying on the art of war: "keep friends close, keep enemies closer". JR

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I've written several articles about malware and how security analyst struggle to keep up. Your comments hit home that the good guy/bad guy struggle is everywhere and the nature of the game requires that the good guys are always playing catch up.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I remember the differences when I was still using winCE based devices so I can imagine how it's evolved. I've just not had reason to work with it or budget to play with it just for recreation.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

With Windows Mobile 5 and 6. Each upgrade had some real improvements over the last version. Windows 7 is supposed to really cool.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I still refer to Windows Mobile as winCE though the CE brand name has long since been replaced. I guess it's like referring to WinXP as Win2k but it still amuses me to remind myself that it's mostly branding in the embedded space. Is the code base really different between the two or is it just different the way win2k and winxp both use the same NT kernel code base? I do have to give winCE (proper that is) credit though. I use Word's outline view now because of using winCE on an HP clamshell to take notes back in Uni. Previous to that, I used the notes app on the Newton then started taking notes in winCE in html for ease of formatting and reading later before finally settling on Word.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Windows Mobile 6.1 is the latest and 7.0 is slated to be released quite soon as well.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Having used winCE and PalmOS for years, I love the devices now that have a full blown OS in them. iPhone is osX in a smaller box and with a different default deskto but it's still full osX behind the makeup. jailbreak it and you have a very portable cli and processor over ssh. Maemo is a full Linux distribution. Through ssh, you can barely tell that your working something smaller than a VHS tape. Between my big boxes and the N810, they are pretty much transparent to each other through the network. (rsync over ssh.. sshfs.. those two things alone are killer features) WinCE (Mobile or whatever the current version branding).. how securely interactive is it over the network these days?

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I must admit that Apple does know how to package things. Also each day I learn more about my iPhone and there's a lot of horsepower there that's not readily advertised.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I love my N800 and N810 but the iTouch seems to have far better battery life. I've family who tried the N800 for a while then baught an iTouch due to the battery. They could both stream music from the home library to any remote networked location but the Nokia tablet had to be plugged in where the iTouch could go a half day or more happily before needing the power cable. Screens are usually the biggest offender so I'm guessing that's the case. Between Nokia's next tablet OS being completely open and the iPhone shape pushing designs forward, I'm excited to see how our consumer James Bond gadgets continue to evolve.

Keith Hailey
Keith Hailey

Considering the phone and the set up as I can see in the picture and running scenarios in my head, It's probably on the same infrastructure. The bases were cover before the phone was ever designed. Flexabilty and adaptability is the key. That's always been one of our main strenths. On the other hand, the "Bean Counters" tend to hate that. Flexibilty and adaptabilty, though cost saving in the long term, makes Congress cringe. So, some times our worst enemy concerning improvement is ourselves. We had good planners in previous generations. We have to be diligent to train more of the present generation to step up and take the wheel before the infrastructure we have in place deteriorates.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Then does the government have a completely separate infrastructure for devices like the Sectera or is it that the traffic is encrypted and public infrastructure is used? This is interesting and I appreciate your knowledge in this area.

Keith Hailey
Keith Hailey

They won't use a carrier for part of the phone. Though the internet was opened up to the public, there is much more to it than the general public and most IT people realise. Parts of it the public never uses or touches. Not even accidentally. There is much more to life than TCP/IP and just like GPS, "we the people" get the rudimentary stuff. (Which is still pretty cool, fun to play with and keeps us busy.) I can tell you from experience, if General Dynamics makes a phone, There is NO civillian equivilent. General Dynamics doesn't compete in the cell phone market. They deal with weapons platforms. Airborne and otherwise. And they are just about the best at what they do. The Government isn't worried about cell towers or servers that we use for the secure side of the phone. At least, the parts of the government that don't go away in 4 or 8 years. (Mr. Clinton's administration was a fine example of semi-cluelessness) I'm almost willing to bet that the non-secure side of the phone is the ONLY reason that would keep the Sectera from being used for "Most Secret" communications. I also bet there is another without the non-secure side with the FOOTBALL. Keith

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