Defense Personnel Can Now Use Samsung Galaxy Devices on Pentagon Networks

Lee Jin-man/AP

The department’s approval of Android’s 4.4 operating system gives troops and civilians more mobile options.

Military personnel who want a wider choice of mobile devices for work now can add Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphones to their list of options.

The Defense Information Systems Agency announced May 14 that Galaxy S4s running Android’s 4.4 operating system and Samsung’s Knox security solution have been deemed secure enough to use DISA’s new mobile device management system to tap into Defense Department non-classified data networks.

The mobile device management system–MDM–began operating Jan. 31as a control system through which approved devices must operate to get access to Defense Department networks.

The MDM enforces security policies by blocking or permitting certain functions on smartphones and tablets. It also detects malware, permits remote reconfiguration, and enables devices to be wiped clean remotely if they are lost or stolen.

Initially, only four models of Apple iPhones and four Apple tablet computers were approved for use with the MDM. Now Samsung Android devices with Knox are also allowed.

Knox is an application that creates a separate “container” within a mobile device that is secure enough for sensitive work to be done and sensitive information to be stored. In addition to providing access to unclassified networks, Knox gives users “access to the Defense Department’s Enterprise Email, synched calendar and contacts in a For Official Use Only environment,” DISA said in a press release.

For now, both Apple and Samsung devices are only permitted to access unclassified networks.

By opening its networks to Samsung and Apple devices, DISA intends to broaden the variety of mobile computers that troops and civilian Defense Department employees can use in the field, on bases, in offices and elsewhere to receive and send information and work almost anywhere at any time.

The goal is for the Defense Department eventually to become “device agnostic,” said DISA spokeswoman Alana Johnson.

For years, BlackBerry dominated the realm of secure mobile devices at the Defense Department. DISA hopes that permitting the use of a variety of mobile devices will increase flexibility and drive down costs.

The agency hopes to have the capacity to handle 100,000 devices through the mobile device management system by Sept. 30. But as of May 5, MDM program manager John Hickey said the new system had only 2,000 users.

In a press release May 14, DISA said its “Release 2.0,” which permits the use of Samsung devices, enables them to use “secure Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, native browser, contacts, and device encryption.”

DISA said it’s Mobile Device Management Program “is ready for orders” from would-be Samsung users. But individuals cannot sign up, only Defense agencies and other defense organizations can subscribe to MDM service. It will cost them $7.36 per month per device. And before they can subscribe, they must buy their smart devices and procure voice and data service plans, Johnson said.