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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

February 26, 2014 at 4:03 PM

Boeing’s self-destructing “Black” phone revealed

New details emerged today of the super-secure, self-destructing phone that Boeing is developing for spies, the military and perhaps private companies.

The details were noted in an FCC filing called out today by digital storage blog Myce.com. The filing includes Boeing’s request for secrecy, but reveals that its Android-based phone — dubbed “Black” — has exotic safeguards against tampering and dual SIM cards for operating on multiple wireless networks.

Brochures available from Boeing say the device has a 4.3-inch diagonal screen, dual 1.2 gigahertz ARM Cortext APU processors and weighs 170 grams. It includes hardware-level security modules and “configurable inhibit controls” to protect the device, its data and transmitted information. The phone also has modular design and expansion port that lets customers add additional sensors or enhancements, such as satellite connectivity or expanded power capacity.

boeingphone2

Boeing disclosed the phone’s “Mission Impossible” style self-destructing capability in its request to keep further details secret and exempt from public-records requests.

“There are no serviceable parts on Boeing’s Black phone and any attempted servicing or replacing of parts would destroy the product. The Boeing Black phone is manufactured as a sealed device both with epoxy around the casing and with screws, the heads of which are covered with tamper proof covering to identify attempted disassembly. Any attempt to break open the casing of the device would trigger functions that would delete the data and software contained within the device and make the device inoperable.”

The filing also discloses that Boeing expects the phone to be used “primarily by governmental agencies and their contractors to ensure that data and voice communications undertaken by their respective employees are transmitted and stored in a highly secure manner.”

Boeing image

Boeing image

Boeing disclosed plans for the device in 2012, saying that it was building its first device for cellular networks because there’s an opportunity to compete against locked-down, encrypted models then selling for $15,000 to $20,000 apiece. It was developed at the Springfield, Va., offices of its defense, space and security group and is being manufactured in the U.S. by an undisclosed partner.

Boeing was initially planning to launch the phone by the end of 2012. Spokeswoman Rebecca Yeamans said it will be “available soon.” Pricing information isn’t yet available; hopefully it won’t be exempt from public disclosure as well.

boeingphone1

Boeing’s phone will compete with BlackBerry — a longtime provider of secure handsets — and newer offerings such as newer Samsung Galaxy phones “Knox” security capabilities and Microsoft Windows Phones that have received federal security certifications.

“We believe that there is significant interest in the defense side, as well as the intelligence side and in the commercial world as well,” Brian Palma, vice president of Boeing’s secure infrastructure group, said at the announcement, according to a report in National Defense Magazine.

Palma said Boeing opted to use Android because customers want their secure phones to still run popular applications. Others may appreciate the irony of secrecy-loving feds wanting a phone running an operating system developed by Google.

Since Boeing began working on its phone, airlines have begun equipping pilots and crew with iPads, Surface 2s, Windows Phones and other consumer devices. Perhaps the company will also expand its device business to provide accessory devices with its commercial airplanes.

Either way building phones ought to be a snap for a company that makes computerized, carbon-fiber airplanes — as long as it doesn’t outsource too many components or skimp on the battery.

Comments | Topics: Android, Boeing, Boeing Black


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