Friday, January 09, 2009

Obama's Blackberry woes....and how to fix them.

I'm not sure if you all have heard, but President Elect Barack Obama is a Blackberry junkie. He carries it with him all the time and loves it. I know many people with blackberries and they all say the same thing: the phones are addictive. You are able to always be in touch, send and receive emails, and communicate with friends and family. However I just read here that the Secret Service is saying he will have to give up his Blackberry the first day he enters office. I know from previous articles that it is a newer model (possibly a blackberry 8700c) from the pictures and that his Cell Phone Carrier is Verizon. If I had to make a guess, I would think there are several security reasons the Secret Service is making him get rid of it. Firstly, all cell phones when actively connected to a cellular network, can be located through triangulation of the towers they are using, or the gps chip built into the phone (all phones since 2003 are required to have some form of gps built in for new 911 emergency standards nationwide.) Having the POTUS carry a hackable location device probably doesn't make the Service's protection job any easier. Secondly, the blackberry's files and information are available to just about any Verizon Customer Service representative that can access customer files by phone number. Obama's other phone, a flip from Verizon, was already illegally accessed by curious Verizon Employees late last year. While those workers were fired, who is to say that someone else wouldn't be able to do the same thing? 
Obama has already gone on record as saying that "They would have to pry it from my hands" so it is apparent he is not fond of the notion of giving it up, and, I can't say I blame him. Talking to Michelle or text messaging with the girls would be a luxury for one of the busiest men on the planet, and having that taken away from you probably would personally upset me if I was him. It also seems counterintuitive that the most technologically advanced president we have ever had wouldn't have some way of connecting to the internet and keeping up to date on things while he is on the go from a PDA of some sort. This does have precedent, though. The Secret Service didn't even allow President's Clinton or Bush (W.) to use E-mail. Can you imagine? Someone with such an important job not having an email account to use for business or pleasure? I have problems believing that our intelligence community couldn't put together a secure email account for our President to use. 
Which brings me to my solution. Let the President carry a modified Blackberry. It would not be in his name or have any connections to his job; it would also be outwardly unbranded of any company affiliation. It would be carried and cloned if necessary to a few other models which would be scattered in other locations to avoid pinpointing his location (acting as decoys). The Blackberry would also run a modified software (from the NSA) which would at the very least encrypt outgoing text messages and emails using 512 bit protocols. Voice would be iffy because it would probably still use a national network. If one could help it, let it be GSM so that the SIM could be removed when necessary for security issues. With my solution, eager employees of the Cell Phone carriers wouldn't be tempted to break Federal Law, terrorist who would love to ambush him would not be able to see where his call signal really is emanating from, and, just for good measure, make it against the law for the National Broadcast companies to video or photograph him while on the phone, similar to the current law in place banning them on taping him take off in Marine One (not able to substantiate that claim). Also, RIM would have their hands free of the whole situation, only delivering the base model phone to the Secret Service before it is stripped apart and rebuilt, much like how Cadillac delivers the new model to them to be custom built into the Presidential Limo.


T3FLON said...

The idea you have is extremely obvious and equally as brilliant. Hopefully they are tricking us by telling everyone he will relinquish his Blackberry on the 20th. It seems that the NSA could do anything it wanted (as far as cell phone technology). Nice post. Maybe you should email it to Barack (seriously)!

Matthew said...

This would not work. Although I am impressed by your knowledge on this subject here, simply having multiple phones in multiple locations would not work. Unless you could make all of the phones appear to be doing the same thing, that means that when ever obama sent a txt, all of the phone would have to send the same txt at the same time. Or you could do something like make all of the phones always send text messages and make calls at random, but that is not easy to do effectively if not impossible. I don't think michelle and the girls want to get random nonsense calls all the time.

And when does the NSA have time to make modified blackberry software in 12 days? It's possible, but making secure software is complicated, although I imagine the NSA has a good handle on it.

Something that could possibly work is some sort of short range cell phone that connects to a portable tower (over an encrypted link) that uses an encrypted satellite uplink to connect to the NSA and then from there do things as normal. Text, IM, browse the web, make calls. It might be a little latent, but it would in theory work and it would not give away the president's location or compromise his communications like a normal cell phone would. Not sure where the resources to develop a custom cell phone like this would come from though...

In other news, yeah losing your blackberry like that would suck a lot.

korben said...

I think one of the other problems is that Blackberry is a Canadian company and I guess that means they aren't as trustworthy as American companies. At least, that's what I've been told. Although I do have at least one friend who works for a local government that has a blackberry that he uses ALL THE TIME. Maybe, he's just not as high up as the president...I'd have to see a list of rankings to make sure though.

slaihing said...

Matthew, I wasn't suggesting the NSA develop the secure software for the 20th, I was just saying that it was within their capabilities to do such. And you are talking about the same type of portable sites Cellular providers utilize in times of power loss or inclement weather I presume? That would function fine. By cloned phone, I meant that other phones would carry the same digital profile but would operate at random, as you stated. Those operations, as well as Obama's real phone, would operate through a "firewall" where it is relayed to the other party. The only thing is that Obama's real phone would be the only true signal relayed to the end point, so Michelle and family would not be receiving spoofed messages and junk calls. I do think it would be possible, though you are right, it would demand some resources to accomplish this.