Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Government Handhelds The Military Upgrades Technology

US Navy Develops World's Worst E-reader 249

Posted by timothy
from the I-want-one dept.
First time accepted submitter Dimetrodon (2714071) writes "It is an unspoken rule of military procurement that any IT or communications technology will invariably be years behind what is commercially available or technically hobbled to ensure security. One case in point is the uncomfortably backronymed NeRD, or Navy e-Reader Device, an electronic book so secure the 300 titles it holds can never be updated. Ever."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

US Navy Develops World's Worst E-reader

Comments Filter:
  • In the navy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:21AM (#46989159)

    security > usability

    No sir, that's just my Kindle. I didn't load classified files on to it, I swear!

    What? Our secret base was compromised because Private Biff's iPad, which tracked everywhere we went, was stolen by a hooker at the last port?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm just shocked to learn that squids can read.

    • like "The Importance of Avoiding Sexually-Transmitted Diseases In Port," "Heavy Maintenance On Carrier Launchers: Packing Steam Pistons," and "Don't Throw That Wrench."

    • agreed, this is a new device that meets the unique needs of a military nuclear submarine (the target environment). Plenty of things to rag on the military about, but I don't think this is one of them. BTW the summary would be better if it included a link to more information to the actual product:LINK [bbc.co.uk]
    • Re:In the navy (Score:5, Informative)

      by Shoten (260439) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @02:01PM (#46991671)

      security > usability

      No sir, that's just my Kindle. I didn't load classified files on to it, I swear!

      What? Our secret base was compromised because Private Biff's iPad, which tracked everywhere we went, was stolen by a hooker at the last port?

      Actually, on a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed vessel with the ability to start World War III, I would argue that for the purposes of recreational reading, security is more important than usability. Consider the failure modes of usability for an e-reader meant for recreation. Now consider the failure mode of security on a nuclear missile submarine.

      I've tried to think of a way to make it updatable...including strong crypto that you'd need a keyloader to manage, so that only trusted devices could update or manage content on the readers. But ultimately, I couldn't find a way to make it so that the device wouldn't have to be considered a controlled asset...and that's essentially the situation they're trying to avoid in the first place. The sub is basically a gigantic SCIF, so if there's any doubt at all as to the device's capability for carrying data out of the environment, it becomes a lot harder to manage. And the OP speaks to it in terms of comparison to an e-reader like we'd have out in the open world; that's not what this is meant to be. It's meant to make it possible for sailors on the boat to have more books than they are used to having. It's a step forward.

      • Re:In the navy (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Noah Haders (3621429) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @02:45PM (#46992199)
        honestly, no big deal if you can't update it. every 6 months just send out new updated ones. You can collect the old ones for reuse / refurbishment.
      • Easy. Don't bother to secure it. Just make it harmless.

        Screen. Five button keypad. SD card slot. So what if some attacker manages to root it? They can't do a thing from there: No radio interface to report back, no USB to compromise connected devices, no microphone or camera for spying. The worst you can do is find out what the crew are reading, with no way to report it back. Maybe you could imply their schedules a little. The very worst a compromised device could do is write some sort of virus to an SD card

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:22AM (#46989163)

    It's not like they "forgot" that users might want to add new books, the inability of any updatable storage was a design requirement to prevent it from being used for espionage or as a channel to inadvertently bring malware aboard a ship.

    This is to prevent it being used to smuggle secret military data ashore, take illicit photos, introduce computer malware or record covert conversations.

    Though it seems that there are so many ways for a person to smuggle a MicroSD card into a secure area that an eReader is probably not a huge concern.

    • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice.gmail@com> on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:25AM (#46989201)

      Getting data onto that MicroSD card would be an issue.

      The main reasons for the lockdown on the device is stray EM emissions which can give away a ships position - and that includes peripherals, so no ports. I have no doubt that its cheaper to replace the readers with new ones every year than it is to build in a way to securely updateable.

      • by jcochran (309950) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @11:04AM (#46989617)

        EM emissions in what is effectively a huge Faraday cage? I don't think so.
        The ebook lockdown is intended to prevent ex-filtration of security information. I'm rather surprised at the rather restricted number of titles they provide. And it seems that they could have designed it to permit updating of the contents while on shore. Say perhaps with a special loader that cryptographically signs the new content and the actual data transmission path being near field interactions. If such devices were only available at shore bases, it would be cumbersome, but would still allow for the updating of contents while preserving the security aspects of the readers.

        • by LoRdTAW (99712)

          I would guess that many of the e-books on the reader are rules, manuals and procedures for current military hardware and practices which are unlikely to change in the next few years. The military does not like change for the sake of simplicity and reliability. I imagine the e-reader with its fixed documents will fit right in.

          • by whoever57 (658626)

            I would guess that many of the e-books on the reader are rules, manuals and procedures for current military hardware and practices which are unlikely to change in the next few years.

            Clearly you followed /. tradition and did not RTFA, since it makes no mention of non-fiction. t appears that these e-readers are simply a method to provide a library of fiction to keep the sailors entertained.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by bluegutang (2814641)

          EM emissions can get out of a Faraday cage. Just not in.

        • by steelfood (895457)

          Yeah, but now the device would cost $1M each and the system would require $200M/year to operate, as opposed to the $50K price tag on these dumb units.

          Ok, so I'm pulling numbers out of my ass, but you get the point.

    • by jythie (914043) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:34AM (#46989311)
      Heh. This summary strikes me as an example of consumers applying their needs to other industries. Here we have a device that is built for a specific but niche use case. Some people are reacting with the idea that as average consumers it does not meet their needs very well therefor it is useless or inferior.
      • I think people are actually reacting with skepticism based on a long history of huge military orders which clearly are not the best value for taxpayer dollar.
        • by jythie (914043)
          On the other hand, people usually take pundit's words for something not being a 'good value'.
        • by jeffmeden (135043)

          I think people are actually reacting with skepticism based on a long history of huge military orders which clearly are not the best value for taxpayer dollar.

          Why the fuck should we start now? $2B for a bomber whose primary capability is nuking vast portions of a continent is a poor "Value" according to many, many taxpayers yet there are a few dozen of those things and we don't have slashdot discussions on it. An e-reader that they are procuring a few hundred of? This surely is not the low hanging fruit when it comes to wasted money.

      • by sjames (1099)

        For one, it's meant to be shared by the crew, not a personal device. There will be a lot less arguments over what to load, accidental or 'accidental' erasures of other people's books, etc if it is a fixed device. It has what it has, no room to argue.

    • by arth1 (260657) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:37AM (#46989335) Homepage Journal

      Though it seems that there are so many ways for a person to smuggle a MicroSD card into a secure area that an eReader is probably not a huge concern.

      I'd think it would be more of an issue with someone potentially editing or replacing the books, changing vital details in operation manuals. If you cannot change the books, at least you know exactly what they contain.

      • by Zordak (123132)
        I actually thought the same thing, but according to the article, these aren't full of manuals. They've got 300 popular books and literary classics. It's a lightweight, standardized, secure library for sailors who are bored and want to read. While this would be a terrible consumer device, I think it makes sense for the use case. If you're deployed on a ship for six months, having 300 books to choose from is a lot better than having zero books to choose from.
        • So it's updated about exactly as often as a shipboard library would be in the first place. And probably contains more titles... I don't see Navy ships dedicating a lot of space to libraries.

        • If you're deployed on a ship for six months, having 300 books to choose from is a lot better than having zero books to choose from.

          Not only can you carry your own books onboard... the Navy has had a library service [navymwr.org], which provides books to ships and maintains libraries on base, for decades (at least as far back as WWII AFAIK). This reader is a (piss poor IMO) supplement/replacement for the latter.

          Heck, even my submarine (designed and built in the early 60's) had a library space provided. It wasn't much

        • by nabsltd (1313397)

          They've got 300 popular books and literary classics. It's a lightweight, standardized, secure library for sailors who are bored and want to read. While this would be a terrible consumer device, I think it makes sense for the use case. If you're deployed on a ship for six months, having 300 books to choose from is a lot better than having zero books to choose from.

          It's terrible for the use case.

          The average size of an eBook in my collection is 1.1MB. The basic Kindle has 1.25GB of available storage. That means it can hold 1,100 books (Amazon claims 1,400). A Kindle is generally used by one person, so that's a huge amount of storage, but if you are sharing among 30 other people (about 150 crew on a US submarine), it makes a lot more sense.

          So, why does this e-reader for the Navy hold only 300 books, when over 108,000 are available to sailors (as eBooks) when they are

    • Though it seems that there are so many ways for a person to smuggle a MicroSD card into a secure area that an eReader is probably not a huge concern.

      How much experience do you have in securing high-value military devices and how much knowledge dop you have about the reasons for securing such devices?

      .
      None and none, you say? Gee, I would have never known that from your comment.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        read again.

        it's a fucking unconnected kindle. there's zero practical reason why it couldn't update the books that were on it. if the makers had any fucking sense they would have included a loader machine on the ship with 30 000 titles the sailors could pick and choose books from...

        but hey, now they can sell another edition next year.

        yes, there would be zero fucking security viability in this, except maybe if you count it as a risk that the extended library would have "objectionable content". it is just an e

  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:24AM (#46989179) Homepage

    Assuming that all the books are in the MOBI or EPUB formats, which are quite compact, one can only assume that the designers really skimped on memory. My Kindle has hundreds more books with plenty of room left. And as this is a technology made to a military contract, one can assume that this device inferior to off-the-shelf consumer items costs much more than them.

    • Or one can assume that 300 titles in the space on one is all they really needed, and that more frequently used manuals will be stored physically.

      Or instead of assuming you are smarter that everyone in the procurement process, you could read more and assume less.

      • by CRCulver (715279)

        Read the article. The book isn't just for manuals, it also has plenty of reading for pleasure material. If one wants to offer a good representation of both the English canon and contemporary publications, one very quickly exceeds 300 titles.

        However, the other reply to my comment which states that some of the manuals may be unusually large, may explain the small amount of titles on this device.

      • RTFA! It's not used for storing manuals.

    • by tippe (1136385)

      Maybe they only wanted to use American made components, and the largest memory they could find was an old stockpile of 128K DIP-style flash made back in the 80's.

      I jest, I jest...

      I know that flash memory is still being made in the US (by Intel and maybe others), but seriously, it must be getting pretty damn hard to make any military gear that uses US-only components...

    • by fafaforza (248976)

      Or they loaded up a bunch of public domain titles, instead of spending tax payer money on titles that they had no idea would appeal to any of the readers.

      I'm sure the military is capable enough to put more than 64MB of memory on a device.

      • by CRCulver (715279)
        If you read the press coverage of this, you'll find that the device includes a number of recent publications from e.g. Harper Collins, so not public domain. Clearly the government simply negotiated a deal with publishers. Furthermore, even if they limited themselves to public domain titles, they could put a whole lot more than 300 titles on the device: Project Gutenberg currently stands at 45538 titles.
  • makes sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:25AM (#46989195)

    "The company has already delivered similar gadgets to members of the US Army and other military personnel.
    The brainchild of the Navy's General Library Program, the electronic ink Kindle-alike has no internet capability, no removable storage, no camera and no way to add or delete content. This is to prevent it being used to smuggle secret military data ashore, take illicit photos, introduce computer malware or record covert conversations."

    Actually makes sense to me.....

    • by ultranova (717540)

      take illicit photos

      You mean photos of illicit activities.

      Let's be honest here: the route the ship took has zero tactical value after the fact, unless they keep on taking the same routes (which would be beyond idiotic). This is about stopping another leak a la Snowden or Manning, which in turn means there's more dirty secrets where those came from. The only real question is: what unsavory activities are being covered up this time?

      It would make more sense to clean up their act than live in a constant state o

      • Re:makes sense (Score:5, Informative)

        by schnell (163007) <me&schnell,net> on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @12:52PM (#46990859) Homepage

        You mean photos of illicit activities.

        No, he means take illicit photos. Not to get in the way of a good conspiracy theory, but there are many highly sensitive areas on a US nuclear submarine that certain foreign powers would love to get pictures of for competitive intelligence purposes. That's what they're worried about, not some coverup of the Navy heartlessly waterboarding harp seals or giving blue whales torpedo enemas.

        • by ultranova (717540)

          Not to get in the way of a good conspiracy theory

          How many times do you need to be caught red-handed before assuming you're at it again stops being a conspiracy theory and becomes just common sense? Well, in the US it takes a single serious offence to mark you a felon for life, never to be trusted again, so why not judge the country itself by the same standard?

          but there are many highly sensitive areas on a US nuclear submarine that certain foreign powers would love to get pictures of for competitive intelli

  • O RLY? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CanEHdian (1098955) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:26AM (#46989205)
    I bet with all this slashvertising these things are going to become collector's items; every hacker will want one to see if they *can* change the content.
  • Makes sense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:27AM (#46989231)

    Can't have machines capable of transporting unauthorized files or tracking your fleet location on board. Would be idiotic.

    This provides a way to give sailors a decent library of books to read without having to find a place to have a dead tree library on a cramped ship.

    The concept is perfectly sound, despite obvious failings in the design/specs (only 300 books, and probably thousands of dollars each, hah)

  • Titles? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RDW (41497) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:33AM (#46989307)

    The WSJ is marginally more informative on the contents:

    "The content consists mainly of newer bestsellers and public-domain classics, as well as titles from the Navy reading list and other texts for professional development. Since publishing partners include Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette and Random House, the lineup is impressive, ranging from contemporary fiction such as A Game of Thrones and The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, bestselling non-fiction such as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and bonafide nerd favorites including The Lord of the Rings series, Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, and Stephen King's The Stand."

    Anyone have a list, or is it classified? Is 'Mutiny on the Bounty' allowed?

    • by fuzznutz (789413)
      This is the US Navy, not the British Royal Navy. Of course it's allowed. Now... The Caine Mutiny might be a different story.
    • by Kiwikwi (2734467)

      Why would anyone be inspired by the mutiny on the Bounty? As far as I know, the story goes like this:

      16 escaped to Tahiti. A year later, one was killed by a fellow mutineer, who was subsequently killed by an angry mob. Within another year, the Royal Navy arrived and arrested them; 4 drowned. After lengthy trials, 3 were executed, 4 acquitted and 3 pardoned.

      The 9 remaining mutineers marooned themselves (along with a group of kidnapped natives) on the deserted Pitcairn island, with all of 4.6 km to spend thei

  • by mark_reh (2015546) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:36AM (#46989329) Journal

    I think they could have put a larger library on it relatively cheaply, but other than that, it makes perfect sense that it can't be connected to a computer network.

    Nope. Not so bad at all.

  • Better Headline (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chillas (144627) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:37AM (#46989333)

    "Navy Invents E-reader that is Secure, Meets its Needs; Hated By People Who Will Never See or Use It"

  • Build a "common operating environment" version of Android, just like how the DoD has a common build of Windows that meets all of its needs. Have a variant that has all wireless hardware and external storage drivers removed. Problem solved.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      why is that cheaper? You still need special hard ware. Special limited hardware, in fact; which means hirer prices. You still need to pay for the specialize OS, and testing, and maintenance, and change management.

    • Cheap solution : don't even run an OS. There's likely no need for an OS at all on a single purpose device with limited inputs/output as this. My 1989 Game Boy didn't run an OS and had more abilities than the Navy e-book. Stuff like micro-waves and alarm clocks don't run an OS either.
      Put evething : the program, fonts (all sizes and styles pre-baked) and books in a single mask ROM.

  • by davidwr (791652) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:44AM (#46989401) Homepage Journal

    This is not the "Worst" e-Reader ever.

    Why do I say that?

    Because it is working as designed.

    Frankly, for certain high-security situations this kind of "immutable" device is the only kind of device that would be allowed in. So it's either something like this, or books-on-tape/CD/paper/something else.

    For slightly less-but-still-very-secure situations you could allow some type of external read-only, no-processor-chip-onboard "expansion pack" memory so that the book content could be switched out without getting a whole new device. I wouldn't use USB though, as that requires a processor on the stick itself.

    Also, I'd make very sure the data format was really "data only" not something that could, in theory, be a vector for "code." This would rule out PDF and PostScript. In other words, it would be pretty limited.

    The things you absolutely do not want for this type of device in a high-security environment are:
    * Any ability to "run code"
    * Any wireless
    * Any ability to export data other than through the screen (you can't stop someone from photographing the screen)
    * Any ability to "hack" the device without physical access and accessing it in a non-standard way (e.g. with a screwdriver). This means the software must be proven to never do anything "bad" other than "just die, requiring a reboot" if the operator is tricked into giving it even carefully-crafted/designed-to-do-bad-things bad data.

    In some cases, you do not want it displaying anything other than what is "whitelisted." This can be done by either only displaying properly-digitally-signed files or, as in this case, by only providing a limited set of files and "sealing" the device.

  • Why do you think the Navy would want their sailors to read whatever they see fit instead of the wholesome library that was carefully selected for them?

    • Possibly close to the same reason the Christians burned books back in the day? Just a guess and most likely a bad one at that.
  • Being so close to water and all, the entire idea of an e-reader for naval sailors is preposterous. The thought that a soldier for that matter would want or need an e-reader is equally absurd. an SOP is useless once the battery runs out. equipment manifests, authorized zone visitors for the day or coded diagrams all cease to exist if the device is dropped, run over, or damaged.

    the enemies paper field manuals have just rendered two of your strongest allies in a battle, communication and comprehension,
    • Being so close to water and all, the entire idea of an e-reader for naval sailors is preposterous.

      This is not your bathtub. This is for the pros.

  • "Moby Dick" has not been updated since originally released in 1851! Nearly all literature is similarly stuck at version 1.0 . Few Navy Manuals / Publications see updates more than every few years.

    Perhaps you are thinking of adding to the collection? Rethink your acquisitiveness and participation in the hysteria of new-is-better. Or let the USN rethink it for you!

  • by JavaBear (9872) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @11:07AM (#46989667)

    IIRC Email is far more insecure than any ebook reader.

  • Or hobbled to create the false impression of security, while not actually being secure at all, just terribly inconvenient to use.

  • If the 300 books are worth reading that's decent but not only that, they're all properly bought/licensed. The collective value of the book's data is probably more than that of the hardware itself, ignoring price gouging and low runs.
    So there's no 4000 books, but even at $1 a piece a 4000 book device would cost $4000, multiplied by hundreds of units. We can joke at the list of "approved material". It's a bit easier to navigate a list of 300 books than 4000 or 50000, too.
    There's the option of releasing new "e

    • There are very large numbers of excellent public domain books on Project Gutenberg and others. You do not have to pay $1/copy for, say, Dickens novels.

  • by Razed By TV (730353) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @11:26AM (#46989881)
    NeRD is not a backronym. A backronym is when you take an existing word/name (Fiat) and create an acronym for it (Fix It Again Tony). I really doubt the Navy just stumbled on the name NeRD and later found the words to affix to it.

    Also interesting to note, the submitter submits things from the same group of sites...
    Naval-technology.com
    Power-technology.com
    Army-technology.com
    Offshore-technology.com
    Pharmaceutical-technology.com
    Hydrocarbon-technology.com

    There are articles about NeRD going back days. I guess these days news is more about rehashing someone else's news and getting traffic to your site.
  • by Enry (630)

    Kindle: Waah, Amazon can take away my titles at any time!
    Navy: Waah, I can't change anything!

  • Hummer.

    Air Force Builds Worst Passenger Jet, Only Hold 1!

    F16, F35, etc.

    A lot of use specific military stuff has little to no application outside the military. The headline and summary is stupid.

  • No wireless. Less space than a Kindle. Lame.
  • I can see how a military e-reader could be useful. I was an avionics tech in the Marine Corps, and our technical library probably weighed a couple tons. It was absolutely mandatory to have the manual in front of you while working on something, no matter how well you knew the gear. But part of my job was to replace pages in these manuals as changes came down from on high. I doubt there are any standing orders that never change at all. An e-reader that can't be updated would be quickly outdated.
  • They could have fitted a receive-only radio that can receive (appropriately authenticated) broadcast / multicast updates when they are back at shore. That way, the library of books available can be kept reasonably fresh without throwaway hardware.

You can do this in a number of ways. IBM chose to do all of them. Why do you find that funny? -- D. Taylor, Computer Science 350

Working...