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Government Handhelds The Military Upgrades Technology

US Navy Develops World's Worst E-reader 249

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."
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US Navy Develops World's Worst E-reader

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  • 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?

  • 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 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.

  • 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.....

  • 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)

  • Serves a purpose (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:29AM (#46989259)

    In spite of the knee-jerk reaction of "That POS can't even be updated!" that the summary seems to be triggering, I think perhaps it was designed this way on purpose? Think about it. 300 documents, could be manuals, laws, whatever. If each of those is to be readily available per person, which is smaller, 1 eReader, or 300 books? Which cost more to produce? 1 reader as opposed to 300 books? ect... The navy probably doesn't want the info in those to change either, hence the no update.

    Seems to work pretty good for its inteded purpose to me.

  • 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.
  • 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"

  • 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 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.

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @11:23AM (#46989863) Homepage

    This is not too different from commercial aircraft.

    Take a Boeing 747. They've been in production for almost 50 years, been through dozens of iterations and tweaks, man different variations, and quite possibly no two are exactly alike.

    You essentially need to be able to get the full manual as it applies to any given aircraft, because over time there's been upgrades, changes, recalls, and everything else you can imagine.

    When you have a few million parts flying in formation, making sure you know which specific parts are in which specific plane is a Very Important Task.

    This means you can now assign people to do nothing but go through paper manuals page-by-page and verify that every page is present and at the correct revision.

    And, compared to the cost of, say, an aircraft carrier of a submarine, the cost of that is pretty insignificant.

  • by bluegutang ( 2814641 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @12:15PM (#46990453)

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

  • 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.
  • by geminidomino ( 614729 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @03:59PM (#46993023) Journal

    It's a long assumption that the sun will live long enough, at the pace GRRM writes...

Old programmers never die, they just branch to a new address.