The National Security Agency has designed and built a series of Android phones intended to provide communications security for U.S. government staff. The phones were designed by the agency’s Information Assurance Directorate, which is responsible maintaining the U.S. government’s secure communications channels.
According to a report in SC Magazine, the agency’s goal was to create phones that were secure enough to meet the NSA’s stringent security standards, cheap enough to be produced in large enough quantities, and easy for government personnel to use. The phones are made with commercial components and run a heavily doctored version of Android 2.2. The phones are locked down tightly, and only applications from the Defence Information Systems Agency’s own app store can be installed (no word on whether they have Angry Birds or Words With Friends).
The phones were developed as part of the NSA’s Mobility Program, which was designed to respond to the growing need among many government agencies for secure methods of communication in an environment that is increasingly reliant on mobile technology.
The phones are created using entirely off-the-shelf components, meaning that with the plans published by the NSA (PDF), the actual device could easily be reproduced. The software, as previously mentioned, is a heavily modified version of Google’s Android operating system. Android is free and open source, meaning that anyone – including the NSA – can download the source code and modify it to suit their needs.
There is no word on how widely the government intends to distribute these “Fishbowl” phones. The number will likely be kept fairly low.