Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
New phones aboard Air Force One (electrospaces.blogspot.com)
104 points by staunch 1159 days ago | hide | past | web | 29 comments | favorite



The US is doomed if the country elects a colorblind president. All that red-green color-coding for secure and non-secure calls is going to ruin them...


All that red-green color-coding for secure and non-secure calls is going to ruin them...

I was surprised by the colour coding as well, albeit more from a usability angle than colour-blindness:

What are "danger" red and "success" green meant to represent?

My natural inclination would be to have no background colour for insecure, and then [colour of choice] for secure.

It makes me wonder how ignorant on the matter I am, and whether red and green are some form of standard for secure/insecure notifications.


> red and green are some form of standard for secure/insecure notifications.

They are. If you look at photos that the military/government publishes of facilities, the secure stuff is always red, and the public stuff is always green (well, always is a strong word. It is occasionally black). (I was going to include such an image now but I can't seem to find a search term for it that will find what I want.)

I agree, it seems a little backwards, but I guess it's a piece of domain-specific knowledge you don't forget once you've acquired it.


Historical German KWF secure analog telephone, with example red "secure" and green "clear" buttons. http://www.cryptomuseum.com/crypto/ant/kwf/

The convention evolved early, when secure communications were rare. The US/NATO clearly marked the secure lines with bright red phones, since the major danger is sending something in plaintext rather than secure, while the reverse error is more harmless.

The green phones followed (since green is the complementary color of red), more out of cargo cult thinking than any usability purpose, which is why you'll still see a lot of black equipment (because the colour of the unsecured line is relatively unimportant.)

And now, we have a hand-me-down convention that contravenes one of our hard-wired conventions about colors: Green: Go, Proceed, Correct, Benign Red: Stop, Not permitted, Incorrect, Harmful.

It is odd, but much like the wrong sign on the electron, you get used to it.


Historical German KWF secure analog telephone, with example red "secure" and green "clear" buttons

I'm confused; the article you linked to consistently says it's the other way around:

  - The green and red buttons at the front are for switching to SECURE and CLEAR mode respectively

  - When the user presses the green button... The exchange then switches to encrypted mode

  - ... Press the green button on the phone to cause the exchange to switch to encrypted mode

  - In normal use... the call is not encrypted and the red LED, marked Klar (clear), lights up

  - In secure mode, the red ET button can be used to switch back to clear mode again

There are a number of comments here stating that the convention is red secure/green insecure, so I presume the article's author is incorrect.

Or is this a classic illustration of UI confusion?


Huh, good catch. Either the author mixed up the description, or the designer confused the standard. I just grabbed the first example at hand, but a quick googling should turn up some more devices.


Yes, it's the official color-coding. In the sidebar at the right side of the article about the phones, you can see a box showing bars in five colors that represent the different classification levels, with green being for everything that's unclassified. Red stands for Secret, but in this case, where it's just secure/non-secure, or actually: unclassified/classified, red is used for classified in general.


I agree, it seems a little backwards, but I guess it's a piece of domain-specific knowledge you don't forget once you've acquired it.

Thanks, I had absolutely no idea about this.

I guess red/caution makes sense if the thinking is "this is secure, be careful with it!"


I'm thinking of the red light in submarines during quiet time.


'We are going to RED alert'

There are endless procedures about handling classified information. You are dealing with state secrets, girding for war, and what have you. From the perspective of security, you are 'arming' your system when you go to secure mode. It is not the time to relax because you are 'safe' (safe from evesdropping), but a time to watch every word - the President has access to information that he should not share with many people who are cleared; you need to be cautious and circumspect. Red is entirely appropriate in that mindset. Secure is a burden, a huge responsibility.


I see a possible conspiracy theory


  L-3 Communications advertises (pdf) the GSIMS system as 
  the most advanced secure communication system for VIP and 
  Head of States aircraft
In the light of Snowden's revelations that we spy on our allies and try to get broken encryption products released, I wonder if any head of state except an American one bothers with an American encrypted phone.

If not, I wonder who it's being marketed to?


"in light of" ?

This has been an obvious problem since the dawn of communications of any sort. No government on Earth would blindly install foreign systems. They wouldn't blindly install domestically built units (what better way to get the inside track then to accidentally be able to listen in on your government's private conversations).

People need to realize that nothing Snowden disclosed was news to any government, especially its security people.


>No government on Earth would blindly install foreign systems. They wouldn't blindly install domestically built units (what better way to get the inside track then to accidentally be able to listen in on your government's private conversations).

History is full of stories that makes this not true dating back to even Xerox machines that the US tampered with before selling them overseas.


> No government on Earth would blindly install foreign systems.

Enigma encryption was sold -to governments- for many years after it had been thoroughly broken.


Crypto AG is still in business. There's a lot of blindlyness out there.


They wouldn't blindly install domestically built units

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2648404/Germany-inve...


Why not always use a secure line? Latency?


Because the person on the other end may not be calling from a secure location.


Or put another way, the other person might be calling from a normal phone.


Yes, for a secure, encrypted phone call, both ends must have equipment that uses the same encryption system, else it's impossible to decrypt what the other end has encrypted and vice versa.


So how do calls between leaders of different countries work? Have all of them agreed upon using the encryption system? Or perhaps they have equipment that can choose which encryption system to use depending on who they are talking to?


If the leaders are important enough, you'll just get a new phone that can talk to theirs. Or a translation server. No need to bother the head-of-state with the technicalities. The point is, there's no reason for there to be a clever, all-in-one solution here, since these are allmost one-off solutions.


That's still a big mystery... but in general, calls between leaders of countries are non-secure. High-level encryption systems are often highly classified, so one country will not easily give such a system to another country. The exceptions are the "hotlines" between a number of countries, where encryption equipment or algorithms are exchanged so a secure connection can be set up.


The thing is that phone underneath could be a SIP/VOIP phone running over a VPN tunnel(or tunnels to provide the MLS -- multi-level security) with a CAC card reader. It probably costs upwards of 10s of thousands if not more per unit.

A lot of that is the red tape and overhead related to having it certified and having as much of it produced in US as possible.

Also wonder if secret service or FBI will pay extra attention to the author for being a little too interested in that topic. Nothing too serious of course, just some visits to his workplace, maybe interrogating his friends, spouse or kids. (Has happened to a friend of mine, after making an inappropriate joke in a forum, and that was before 2001)


I would be shocked if the cost-per-phone system was less than $250k/phone, with all costs amortized over the project (Design, Delivery, Installation, Support)


I'm sure the USSS will be very interested in this whole thread but what are they gonna do?


It doesn't seem that surprising to me that Air Force One has encrypted VOIP phones.

But it is always useful to see new info.

It is surprising that they are relatively new.


Wow. Just wow.

I would have thought that that the NSA would be more sly about their unattributed propaganda sites. That whole site is full of bullshit whitewashing.




Applications are open for YC Winter 2018

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: