The United States government traditionally prefers BlackBerries for their security features and it is known for barring its employees from sending classified messages using smartphones that do not meet security certifications. That is changing, though, as Uncle Sam is putting forth a test program that will see some U.S. officials, including troops, use smartphones running a modified version of Google’s Android software rather than a commercial one.
This modified Android version will be installed on commercially available phones sporting hardware that meets certain security criteria. According to “people involved in the project” who spoke to CNN, the forked Android version with added security features will let U.S. troops and government workers handle classified government documents over cellular networks. These secure devices will be first deployed to U.S. Army that has been testing touchscreen smartphones and tablets for nearly two years. Later, secure Android phones will arrive to certain federal agencies that will use them to send and receive government cables, the report noted.
Even though Apple’s iPhone and iPad are also highly desired among U.S. officials, Apple is not cooperative and refuses to let people involved in the project access the iOS core for adapting security standards required by the government. On the other hand, Android was long plagued by an unpleasant public relations issue—the so-called Android malware hysteria, which mostly persisted thanks to Google’s rivals in the mobile space. For example, Microsoft did not waste time exploiting the perceived security weaknesses of Google’s mobile operating system. While it has been true that the lack of tight curating lets ill-behaved apps slip past Google, the company traditionally acts quickly to remove offending programs from Android Market. Acknowledging the malware problem, Google yesterday launched a new service that automatically scans its app store for potential malware. The company argued in a blog post that malicious downloads on Android Market saw a 40 percent decrease during 2011.