Boeing builds self-destructing Android phone to shield top secret info

Boeing builds self-destructing Android phone to shield top secret info

Summary: The aerospace giant Boeing is launching an Android handset that will wipe its data and stop working if someone attempts to tamper with the device.

TOPICS: Mobility

US aerospace firm Boeing has made a secure smartphone that will destroy its data and render itself inoperable if tampered with.

The phone has been designed with the needs of the "US defence and security communities" in mind, and attempts to satisfy security requirements not met by current devices, according to Boeing.

The phone is what Boeing terms a "sealed device", due to the physical and digital countermeasures designed to protect the phone's hardware from interference.

"The Boeing Black phone is manufactured as a sealed device both with epoxy around the casing and with screws, the heads of which are covered with tamper proof covering to identify attempted disassembly," Boeing states in a filing with the US Federal Communications Commission.

"There are no serviceable parts on Boeing's Black phone, and any attempted servicing or replacing of parts would destroy the product," according to the filing, spotted by community site MyCE. "Any attempt to break open the casing of the device would trigger functions that would delete the data and software contained within the device and make the device inoperable."

The Boeing Black phone. Image: Boeing

The Black phone will be sold with an end-user non-disclosure agreement, as well as being "marketed and sold in a manner such that low-level technical and operational information about the product will not be provided to the general public".

The handset is driven by a dual-core 1.2 GHz ARM Cortex A9-based processor and will run the Android operating system with "enhanced software security policy configuration". It has a 4.3-inch qHD screen with a 540 x 960 resolution display and GSM, WCDMA and LTE connectivity, as well as supporting Bluetooth 2.1 enhanced data rate connections.

Black phones also have a dual-SIM capability that enables users to switch between government and commercial networks.

The phone's listed security features are "embedded FIPS 140-2 key storage, hardware inhibits, trusted modules and configurable OS security policies". The phone supports disk encryption, hardware root of trust and crypto engine, and secure boot.

"Hardware media encryption and configurable inhibit controls are embedded to protect the device, its data, and the transmission of information, significantly reducing the risk of mission compromise due to data loss," according to Boeing.

A modular expansion port allows additional sensors or add-ons to be fitted to the phone to provide satellite connectivity, expanded power capacity, or other additional features. The device also includes a portable digital media interface (PDMI) and a micro USB port. Onboard storage can be expanded via microSD card.

The Black phone weighs 170g and has a 1590 mAh lithium-ion battery.

Another security-focused Android handset, the Silent Circle Blackphone, was made available for pre-order at Mobile World Congress this week.

Further reading

Topic: Mobility


Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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  • Lithium

    Just to be absolutely sure that nothing survives, let's trigger a combustion cascade in the lithium ion battery. That should take out the data, the phone, and a piece of the offending person.
    • Except that that won't work

      For it to work it must FULLY destroy the storage device ... and the worst a lithium explosion can do is burn it.
  • How Helpful

    It must be nice to have an Earth Standard operating system for mobile devices that is open enough to permit this kind of innovation to meet the needs of niche market segments. As the smartphone is supplanted by more "tricorder like" instruments for scientific, medical, industrial, and military uses you can expect Android to be there.
    • Building ob the linux ancestry

      ... Pun intended...

      A good reference point may be something like puppy, or just about any other way to have home and any application directories saved to non persistent memory like RAM. Sure in it's every day use RAM takes a few seconds to minutes to dissipate charge, but in a purpose - built device it could be configured to flush quicker and to auto flush if the handset is opened or the temperature begins to rapidly drop in a freeze attack.

      Obviously volatile data is more volatile, but an onboard battery could easily see thru the projected life of the device?
  • Mission: Impossible....

    Nick Heath - You should begin your article by making reference to the Mission: Impossible (4) phone which would self destruct in 5 seconds.
  • iPhone has feature already

    My daughters iPhone self destructs all the time. From what I read here on ZDNet, mac's also have exploding battery features too. I think apple may sue Android for patent violation.
    Sean Foley
  • You don't say ?

    Beoing ... one of the closest corporations to the American Government ?? if there is one thing you can be absolutely sure of, it is that this phone will have a back door the size of a barn for the NSA to drive through.
  • Blackphone?

    Can they use that name if geeksphone has a Blackphone already? I find it interesting that it seems security has become the new thing to distinguish your phone. What happened to screen resolution, chip cores, screen size etc?
  • Sounds like a challenge.

    Game on!
  • Seriously???

    First of all, how does one change the SIM card in a "sealed device" to enable a personal account?
    But, more obviously, does Boeing REALLY want us to believe that security folks are lacking the intelligence (pun intended) to store sensitive information somewhere where it is a lot less likely to be "left behind" (taxi cab / bar / etc.), or otherwise easily removed from personal possession (pick-pocket)?? Seriously???
    So, all the "enemy" would need to do in order to destroy "gathered information" would be to grab the phone and tamper with it? Poof - you have nothing on me anymore...!
    Sheesh - what's wrong with this picture?
  • One drop..

    ..and all your data goes away.
  • I thought they did that natively, on their own.

    Guess I was wrong.
  • I'm sure MS' lawyers will be contacting Boeing shortly

    But Boeing has fairly deep pockets, so we'll see what happens.
    John L. Ries
    • And Amazon

      Lockheed, Grumman, and a many others that have the same licensing deal, you know, have deep pockets, too.
  • Apple will soon be copying that "self-destruct" feature, and will be adding

    it to their iPhone 6. And then, they'll file a patent for that feature, and Boeing will get sued.
    • Or they can just buy a cheap Chinese charger

      apparently does the same thing.
  • Boeings Phone

    The planes they put the batteries in self-destruct too I have seen :)
  • Will it take off?

    In this day and age, we are all concerned about our security and privacy. Although the name is a bit of a juxtaposition to what a Black Box is and its purpose, I think it's a cool concept. It would be interesting to see whether any other companies take on this concept.

    Just two things to mention:
    1) If the phone is dropped, would the data erase due to the impact?
    2) Why is it called "Black phone"? Black boxes are built to be indestructible while this phone obviously is not.
    James Stevenson