Mobile virtualisation provider Open Kernel Labs (OK Labs) has launched SecureIT Mobile, a new software solution that allows secure voice, text, apps and video features to be built into off-the-shelf mobile phone hardware and software.
OK Labs believes it offers public safety organisations and the enterprise sector in particular a much cheaper and more versatile secure communications device than costly, specialist two-way radio systems, as the safety features are incorporated into existing, readily available smartphones.
The first SecureIT Mobile enabled devices are expected to reach the market in the next six to nine months, according to Steve Subar, president and CEO of Chicago-based OK Labs. ‘We are marketing the software now and are already getting orders from OEMs,’ he told Wireless last week.
Subar said: ‘There is a real challenge in dealing with mobile security. We have identified a trend and a need in the marketplace among security conscious agencies and organisations for secure off-the-shelf solutions. Ideally, the solution needs to be at a much reduced price from the specialist phones and radios used by public safety organisations.’
Subar believes OK Labs has come up with a solution via its SecureIT Mobile software. The software is built on the company’s microkernel based OKL4 Microvisor, a mobile virtualisation platform. OK Labs’ Secure HyperCell Technology provides isolation between open operating systems, such as Android, Symbian and Linux, and security required services, while still enabling interaction and resource sharing.
What this means is that mobile phone manufacturers and semiconductor suppliers can incorporate new features into phones, but in a way that keeps them separate from the device’s open operating system. Device OEMs can segment applications into smaller, more secure and more manageable software components. This results in software that is easier to develop, more reliable and because it can be isolated from the main device OS, it keeps the software secure.
The devices will be able to support regular communications and applications for ‘normal’ conversations, such as personal communications and social networking, but also support secure exchanges using encrypted voice, text or even video, among similarly equipped devices and infrastructure.
Subar said: ‘There are huge cost savings to be made here by meeting the demanding security needs of public safety and government by securely isolating voice, text and video from the open OS on the device.’
If a virus or malware enters the phone and successfully attacks the phone’s open OS kernel it can gain access to supervisor privileges, which means it can circumvent the phone’s security and then hack into all the memory and hardware resources available to the OS, explained Subar. The malware can then gather information such as PIN number, texts and financial information. It can launch a denial of service attack, propagate itself on other devices and even attack the network itself.
Subar said: ‘Our software will not stop viruses coming onto the device, but it will limit the attack to the smartphone OS. It cannot attack the secure virtual machine (VM), deny service to the secure VM or propagate itself outside of the VM it entered. It cannot get to the privileged part of the device – that part is running in isolation like a separate machine.’
He added that for the time being OK Labs is working with manufacturers and chip suppliers to pre-load SecureIT Mobile software onto devices. But he anticipates that the software will be available for post-loading in the not too distant future.
‘Public safety organisations and businesses would have to invest in new devices, but at a price that is much cheaper than two-way radio terminals,’ said Subar. ‘Yes, you would have to replace the devices every 18 months to two years, but at a cost of around £300 for a smartphone, you would get payback pretty quickly.’
Subar pointed out that SecureIT Mobile also provides security for enterprise apps. ‘You can download a company app that might contain sensitive information onto your mobile, but run it in isolation from the rest of the device, which you would be using for personal browsing and downloads,’ he said.
The advantage for end users as OK Labs sees it is that they do not need any special server software or licenses. The IT department does not have to do anything, as they are just purchasing an off-the-shelf smartphone.
OK Labs announced this week that it has joined McAfee Connected, which will enable it to partner the world’s largest security technology company.
Ok Labs has collaborated with Sirrix, a consultancy focused on design and development of customised security solutions, to create a SecureIT Mobile proof-of-concept.
The company has also continued to work with Citrix to produce the Nirvana Phone, a proof-of-concept phone built with the OKL4 Microvisor and the Citrix Virtual Desktop Agent.
Last year, OK Labs’ commercialisation partner National ICT Australia, verified a bug-free test of the new SecureIT Mobile software.