A program in the United Kingdom to allow members of the armed forces to discuss military secrets using a smartphone will now involve a modified iPhone 7 with hardened security, replacing insecure Android devices
BT, the telecommunications company working on the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) project, intends to use the iPhone 7 as the “device of choice” for secretive communications, reports TechRepublic. Steve Bunn, BT technical business manager for defense, advises the iPhone 7 is being modified so it can switch between different modes of operation and levels of security, depending on the sensitivity of information involved in the call.
“We’ve been working very closely with [the MoD] to develop what we’ve commonly called a ‘dual-persona device,” said Bunn. “Essentially [it] means you can have voice at official and at secret.”
Aside from allowing secure communications between personnel, work is also being put into making the iPhone useful for retaining sensitive data. “Secure storage containers,” presumably involving some form of hidden or encrypted files and folders, could allow mission-critical secrets to be stored for later use, and could potentially be used to transport data between locations without broadcasting it over networks.
Due to security reasons, BT officials were not able to provide further details about the iPhone 7’s customization.
The project didn’t originally use an iPhone at the start, with BT opting for the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, but that changed. “As more and more development and testing was done, the security wasn’t deemed to be sufficient,” states Bunn, with the iPhone’s security credentials making it a more viable device.
BT business development director Derek Stretch notes there’s another compelling reason to move to the iPhone. According to Stretch, the iPhone 7 is already widely used within the MoD for various purposes, which potentially makes deploying the more secure versions easier for both support teams and the users.
The switch to the iPhone 7 for security reasons goes against the smartphone market trend of high-security devices, such as the Boeing Black and the Silent Circle Blackphone. These high-priced smartphones usually employ a modified version of Android’s that adds in more security-minded functions than the standard release used by manufacturers while also removing unneeded functionality.
By comparison, the difficulty of thwarting iOS security has forced parts of the U.S. government to take measures to try and weaken encryption with backdoors, though this is being met with resistance.