January 24, 2009 in Business

Obama’s other phone has Itronix shell

President will use Edge for top-secret talking
By The Spokesman-Review
Courtesy photo photo

The Sectera Edge is a smart phone approved for super-secure government conversations. Courtesy photo
(Full-size photo)

The wires buzzed this week when the White House said President Barack Obama won his battle to continue using his trusty BlackBerry smart phone.

Media reports also say that when the president needs to talk securely and safely with advisers, he’ll rely on a smart phone partly designed by a Spokane Valley technology company, Itronix.

That phone, the $3,350 Sectera Edge, acquired its outer shell from the same design lab at Itronix that has built ultrarugged laptops for the military and public safety officials for more than 10 years.

Obama has said he’s an addicted BlackBerry user – dashing off dozens of text messages daily from that phone, which uses the same basic systems used by companies across the planet.

But when the commander in chief needs to make a top-secret call or urgent message, he’ll likely tap away or dial a number using the Sectera Edge, an advanced, ultrasafe smart phone that comes with state-of-the-art encryption and wireless security.

Calls to the White House to confirm the use of the General Dynamics phone were not returned Friday.

General Dynamics, one of the nation’s primary defense contractors, has been building secure communications devices for the military and government for decades. In 2005 it acquired Itronix, a Spokane-area tech firm.

About the same size as a standard smart phone, the Sectera Edge is built to endure the most extreme conditions. Like the laptops Itronix sells, the Sectera Edge can be dunked in water or run over by a truck and continue working.

Itronix officials confirmed that the Sectera Edge’s rugged qualities were designed at its Spokane Valley location. They also said federal security guidelines require they say nothing else publicly about the device.

The other parts of the Sectera Edge – including wireless components and software – came from other divisions of General Dynamics, a company spokesman confirmed.

The company won’t say how many Sectera Edges the government has ordered. General Dynamics had to wait through 15 months of testing before the National Security Agency, the entity that provides secure government communications, certified the Sectera Edge as its top-of-the-line secure smart phone.

After his election, Obama insisted he was addicted to his BlackBerry and hoped to continue using it, despite the extra precautions his new job requires. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters this week that Obama would continue using the BlackBerry “to stay in touch with senior staff and a small group of personal friends.”

Under current laws, if Obama uses his BlackBerry to text message officials or friends, those messages could be considered subject to the open records law. On a Sectera Edge, all communications would be encrypted and not subject to the same concerns.

General Dynamics literature notes that the Sectera Edge has a faceplate that glows red when the device is operating in secure mode. A press of a button on the front of the device engages “classified mode,” with the red light indicating the phone can only connect to another device that uses the same technology.

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