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Secure UC supports some of the world’s most sensitive and dangerous missions

12 June 2013 | Mahesh Punyamurthula , Worldwide Industry Technology Strategist

In part 2 of our 3-part interview series, Twisted Pair’s Tom Guthrie discusses how secure unified communications supports covert missions, and the unique needs and security requirements of international public safety and defense organizations. (Read part 1.)

Are there any special considerations for UC that supports covert missions?

The considerations are role by role, but on the covert side users will usually have a device specific to the operation. So in the federal space, such as a secret service agent or border patrol enforcement officer, they may be bringing their own device, or they are working with a subset of devices that have been approved because of their secure capabilities that they can choose from – which is one reason you still see so many federal employees carrying Blackberries. Our technology provides many different applications for PCs, desktop IP phones and smartphones that let the user interface to a WAVE communications system to meet their unique needs.

What we’re trying to do is give them flexibility. If you’re able to bring your own device and use it, then there’s app for that, but if there are others that are handed to you because they are specifically secured or more appropriate for their role, then we want an application that works with that as well. The theme throughout is replacing a single-purpose, very expensive piece of hardware and delivering that same functionality through an application that can run on any device.

How does this approach differ from the way secure UC has been handled in the past?

Historically it’s been common for defense organizations to use a large systems integrator to build something that fits 100% of their singular, unique requirement. But you just can’t keep up with technology that way; the development process moves too slowly. So now customers are looking into using off-the-shelf technology, which in many cases may already meet 80-90% of requirements and can be used immediately. And because the systems are less specialized, you can select from multiple, competitively priced vendors, and since other agencies buy the devices, they’re cheaper to produce and purchase. 

Does this same scenario apply to international defense communities?

We’re seeing this same scenario around the world. Many enterprises are using Microsoft Lync as an off-the-shelf technology and see WAVE in the same way, so if you’re in an enterprise-like environment, you use Lync. If you need to extend access from Lync out to those tactical radio systems, that’s where WAVE comes in. We’re a software connector providing access to other systems.

I can give you a few operational examples:

  • In the military you have update briefings – essentially very large, international conference calls that are convened over secure communications to discuss strategy and updates. What they want to join is not just a conference call; they need to be linked to a forward base, for example, places like Afghanistan or Iraq. And they’re not just on phones – you can have people participating through PCs or a tactical radio system, so you need something that can integrate those together. That’s the role we’ve been trying to play through off-the-shelf software.
  • On a smaller scale, if you’re using it for a tactical operations center, you have a forward operating base in a tent that’s fairly well protected. Some people are using IP phones and ruggedized laptops, but they need to reach out and talk to a Stryker or tank brigade using a tactical radio system. So the question becomes how do you bridge those together? – that’s what our software does. With a UC solution you can have a headset, be sitting at a laptop, and talking on a radio channel being used by a Stryker Brigade.

This is the essence of what UC means today – how “left out” systems can be included in the realm of unified communications.

What kind of additional security does that provide?

We’re encrypting the transmissions themselves, in addition to transmission protocol through Lync. Whether it’s a private IP network, or a public carrier network, we encrypt all the traffic, from the end device back to the connection point and to Lync so that all the path of the communication is secure.

We see this especially for federal organizations in the U.S., or internationally for a state security directorate or a Ministry of Interior because the national security and local security is the same for many of European countries.

We’re seeing that in Europe, where they raised standards for public safety organizations (through TETRA), a user at a desk using Lync can securely talk out to a user on a TETRA radio and also a user of a smartphone. It doesn’t matter if you’re at your desk, on a radio or on a mobile device, you can securely communicate whenever you need to.

Next: Q&A with Tom Guthrie – Part 3: The burgeoning UC marketplace, major trends shaping the industry landscape, and the future of Twisted Pair’s WAVE technology.

Part 1: Secure UC now and then: The changing landscape and unique challenges of a modern technology

To ask questions, share ideas, or receive more information about secure UC, please contact us at safetyanddefense@microsoft.com or @MicrosoftPSNS.

Mahesh Punyamurthula
Worldwide Industry Technology Strategist

Microsoft on Safety and Defense Blog

About the Author

Mahesh Punyamurthula | Worldwide Industry Technology Strategist

Mahesh Punyamurthula has 17+ years of evangelism, architecture, and software development experience with Microsoft platforms and technologies. He has also managed technical relationships with several global safety and defense partners.