Warfighters Need Trusted Sensors

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July 16, 2019 | Originally published by Date Line: July 16 on

More and more warfighters around the globe are starting to carry commercial smartphones. Helping to fuel this widespread adoption are a number of apps for warfighting and individual soldier support, many of which leverage the smartphone’s sensors to provide features ranging from blue force tracking to encrypted calling. But as we’ve learned from the Pentagon’s ban of mobile devices from secure spaces, smartphone sensors are a potential mother lode for hostile nation-states looking to gather mission-critical information. Rather than continuing to fight uphill against the vulnerable mobile ecosystem, defense organizations have started looking for alternative forms of trusted sensors.

How Smartphone Sensors Help Warfighters

Evidence of smartphone adoption by warfighters can be seen in recruiting commercials in which troops leverage military-issued and hardened consumer smartphones for tasks like communication, location sharing, field maintenance, and even calling in airstrikes. This adoption has brought a number of key benefits. Tactically, smartphones improve situational awareness through real-time information sharing and enhanced user interfaces. Smartphones also eliminate the need for soldiers to lug around a number of items, including paper maps and single-function devices. And because soldiers already use mobile devices in their personal lives, the training requirements are minimal.

It’s not just size and portability that make smartphones such powerful tools, it’s also their collection of sensors. Smartphone sensors — including GPS chips, microphones, motion sensors and more — provide useful capabilities for the warfighter. Three of the most powerful use cases include:

Blue force tracking at any level
Encrypted communications at any level
Actionless logins via continuous multi-factor authentication

However, commercial smartphones, including those issued and hardened by the military, come with risks. Driven by economic, not military, motivation, smartphones and their ecosystems introduce a wide variety of vulnerabilities that can never be fully mitigated.