iPhones, iPads, Android-based devices, and BlackBerry tablets soon will be approved for use on the Navy's unclassified network.

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributor

August 23, 2011

3 Min Read

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The Department of the Navy (DON) soon will approve the use of iPhones, iPads, Android-based mobile devices and BlackBerry-based tablets on the unclassified networks of the Navy and Marine Corps mainly in response to demand from its personnel, according to the Navy’s CIO office.

"It is likely that devices based on Apple iOS, Android, and RIM QNX operating systems will be approved for unclassified network connectivity in the coming months," according to a post on the Department of the Navy's CIO blog. QNX is the OS on which the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet is based; other BlackBerry devices already are widely used at the Department of Defense.

The productivity gains that can be achieved from using commercial smartphones also is a reason the Navy is eyeing the move, according to the post, which is attributed to Mike Hernon, an adviser to the DON CIO in telecommunications and wireless strategy and policy.

"Many Navy and Marine Corps personnel acquired smartphones and tablet devices to take advantage of advanced capabilities, such as enhanced document management," he wrote. The DOD has been "working to integrate these devices into the network to increase user efficiency," however, security requirements currently strictly limit their use. For instance, personnel can't bring the devices into any area where classified information is stored or discussed without prior approval, according to Hernon.

The DON now is working to approve the devices according to its Security Technical Implementation Guide (STIG), although once it does, some commercial features of the devices are likely to be disabled, Hernon said.

There is "strong" demand for both iPhones and Android-based devices within the Navy's user community, and interest in the iPad is even stronger than that, he said. The Navy should soon approve STIGs for all of these devices, Hernon added.

The QNX STIG may take a bit longer because it is a new operating system, he added. "The PlayBook will require a more extended certification and accreditation effort than the routine release of a new BlackBerry," Hernon said, adding that the process is underway and approval is expected.

The DON expects its approval of new devices to "lay the groundwork for additional enhancements," including a mobile apps store the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) may create, the possibility of "dual use" devices that will have segregated profiles for government and personal use; and the potential for the government to act as a virtual mobile network operator, something DISA currently is exploring.

Federal agencies have been experimenting with the use of commercial smartphones and tablets like iPhones and Android-based devices for some time, but most deployments have been limited or for specific applications. But broader approval and use is beginning to emerge. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), for instance, recently said will allow hospital clinicians and employees to use smartphones like iPhones and Android-based devices beginning Oct. 1 to access information from its electronic health records (EHR) system and other internal applications.

The department also added iPads and Windows- and Android-based tablets to an existing enterprise contract for other hardware purchases.

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