OK Labs, LG working on secure, virtualized phones for DoD

The companies are starting with the LG Prada Android phone

Government workers might not be best known for their sense of style, but some Defense Department workers may soon be carrying Prada - the phones, that is.

With a U.S. Department of Defense contract in hand, Open Kernel Labs is working with LG to develop a secure version of the Prada Android phone for the department's workers. Employees who have the phones will be able to access government data using secure apps, OK Labs said.

The DoD has not made any commitments about the number of phones it plans to buy and OK Labs can't disclose exactly which applications will be secured on the phones, said Carl Nerup, vice president of global business and corporate development for OK Labs. The DoD can decide to let users switch between a personal section of the phone and a work section or simply load the secure apps onto the phones.

In a press release about the deal, OK Labs said the companies are working on securing other devices including tablets and devices running other mobile platforms in addition to Android. The goal, OK Labs said, is to allow government workers to carry one phone. Some workers use two phones: one sanctioned by their employer for security reasons and another that the user chooses based on personal preferences.

For the OK Labs technology to work, OEMs must build software into the phones before they are shipped and then apps must be made compatible with the technology. The result is a secure app running in a virtual machine that can't be accessed by malware that might be loaded onto the phone.

As part of the deal, the DoD defines the requirements it's looking for on the phone and is funding its development, Nerup said. But LG will be able to sell the resulting upgraded version of the Prada outside of the DoD to security-conscious enterprises.

OK Labs expects the phones to start being used by the DoD in mid-2012. The company couldn't say what the phones would cost but estimates they will sell for 10 percent to 20 percent above the wholesale price.

Subsequent phone models shouldn't take quite as long to produce, particularly for an enterprise that doesn't have quite as arduous a process as the DoD has for introducing a new device, Nerup said.

OK Labs has also released a white paper that covers virtualization in mobile devices. OK Labs hopes that the white paper will allow other vendors to model their systems on the architecture described, in order to sell similar kinds of virtualized phones to government agencies.

Virtualization on mobile phones has been a hot topic recently. OK Labs, VMware and Red Bend are among companies virtualizing mobile phones so that the most security-conscious employees can use popular consumer phones for work applications.

Verizon last year said it would sell an LG phone that offers virtualization technology from VMware, and Telefonica has announced plans to offer a Samsung phone with VMware's virtualization technology.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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