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Vanderbilt Works to Secure Military Smartphones

by Kris Osborn on February 6, 2014

army smartphoneSoldiers in Afghanistan are experimenting with smartphones engineered to better protect operational datas designed by scientists at Vanderbilt University’s Institute for Software Integrated Systems, or ISIS.

Vanderbilt experts and researchers are working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, on a program called Transformative Apps, an effort designed to develop a family of military-relevant software applications, or apps.

The program is aimed at improving the security or information assurance technology of smartphones in order to allow for their use in rugged, tactical combat environments where there are often no fixed-infrastructures such as cell towers.

“One of the things you find when you move into a tactical environment is that you cannot rely on any kind of fixed infrastructure,” said Douglas Schmidt, professor of computer science at Vanderbilt University, ISIS.

The Army has worked on a program called Nett Warrior to get smartphones in the hands of soldiers in combat. Currently, soldiers with the 10th Mountain Division are using them on a deployment to Afghanistan.

Findings from the Transformative Apps program would be fed to the Nett Warrior program to better secure those devices, Schmidt said.

Schmidt said his laboratory has been working on developing enhanced software and middleware that better protects information.

“There are people in Afghanistan using our software. We found ways to connect the smartphone to military-grade radios so they have a secure link. Then the radio as a communications channel allows the soldiers to use the smartphone for chat, blue force tracking, video and text – while on patrol,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said his laboratory developed a small cable that connects the smartphone to the radio, allowing the phone to be tethered to the radio, Schmidt explained.

“The radio is used for secure communication and the smartphone is used to give soldiers the same type of smartphone experience we have come to take for granted here in the US,” he said.

The radios are connected to one another through mobile-ad-hoc networking. Last year, Vanderbilt’s ISIS research lab received about $25 million in funding, about two-thirds of which came from DARPA and the Defense Department, Schmidt said.

“DARPA’s big goal is to bridge the gap between fundamental research — crazy pie in the sky stuff — and the needs of the warfighter. They work to demonstrate the feasibility of technologies,” Schmidt said.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

blight_ February 6, 2014 at 6:14 pm

Just let Lockheed do it

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oblatt2 February 6, 2014 at 11:22 pm

Just toys of a defeated army. We should instead look at what the Taliban uses so successfully.

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William_C1 February 7, 2014 at 1:10 am

Except the Taliban has never defeated our Army. They are simply Afghanistan's cockroach infestation that refuses to die out. As Afghanistan seems unable to get their act together, they'll be out in force when we finally leave. They, the Afghan Government, and perhaps some other factions can fight over the spoils of war, control of a place that makes Somalia look good. Maybe in another hundred years or so they'll get their act together.

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oblatt2 February 8, 2014 at 11:04 am

I forgot loser-land is happy to lose.

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blight_ February 8, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Face-saving measure.

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John Deere February 9, 2014 at 8:29 am

What we refer to as "Taliban", are mostly goat herders armed with shepherd's crooks and a Kalashnikovs. They switch sides faster than our home grown politicians. There is a cadre of zealots, but they are isolated and mostly harmless to the West without funding. Follow the money trail, find out who is financing the zealots and purge, with extreme prejudice.

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blight_ February 7, 2014 at 11:06 am

IEDs, splashing acid into women's faces, killing people in the dead of night?

Edit: Forgot about Robert Bales. Yeah, killing people in the dead of night works wonders. Hah.

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blight_ February 8, 2014 at 10:24 am

Fork AOSP code and build your own operating system.

Android descends from Linux. iOS an OS X descend from FreeBSD, another Unix progeny.

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Rob C. February 10, 2014 at 11:48 am

I hope they improve the phones their using. Smart Phones are rather power hungry in comparison to dumb phones. If i was in the remote locations, I'd want something to keep better charge.

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