Communications Security, or COMSEC for short, is a component of information assurance focused on preventing unauthorized access and ensuring the integrity and authenticity of information transmitted through U.S. government telecommunications. COMSEC specifications and procedures are set and routinely updated by the National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS).
Communications Security is vital for U.S. government telecommunications involving classified or sensitive information that, if intercepted, could pose significant national security risks. COMSEC devices are commonly employed to ensure confidentiality through the three main security disciplines:
Cryptographic security is a component of COMSEC that ensures the authenticity and confidentiality of messages by physically encrypting data using techniques that typically consist of converting plain text or data into ciphertext that can only be decrypted with a secret key or algorithm. This process guarantees the confidentiality and security of transmitted data, rendering it unreadable to unauthorized individuals. Even if intercepted, the encrypted data remains incomprehensible without the knowledge of the appropriate decryption technique.
Physical security is the component of COMSEC involving taking physical measures (e.g., barriers, locks, alarms, etc.) to protect classified material from unauthorized access.
Transmission security is the component of COMSEC designed to protect transmissions from being intercepted by unauthorized parties through means other than encryption. Transmission security uses techniques like frequency hopping, where signals are transmitted while rapidly changing the carrier frequency. Both the message’s sender and receiver would require a key to decode the transmission, while unauthorized personnel attempting to intercept it would only obtain fragments of messages.
COMSEC is not just relevant for protecting classified government files. In a world where technology plays such a vital role in our daily lives, communications security is of the utmost importance. COMSEC is employed for a variety of purposes, including protecting sensitive information like social security numbers and credit card/payment information, securing computer files, ensuring medical records remain anonymous, preventing identity theft, and more.
COMSEC equipment is designed to provide telecommunications security by automatically converting outgoing transmissions to unintelligible, scrambled forms that can only be deciphered by similar COMSEC equipment being used by authorized personnel on the receiving end.
With modern warfare encompassing the cyberspace realm, COMSEC plays a crucial role in safeguarding U.S. military systems from adversarial hacking attempts. Its purpose is to protect sensitive information that, if acquired, could jeopardize the safety of military personnel. Communications security is routinely employed as part of daily military operations, such as the U.S. Air Force using COMSEC equipment to safely carry out aerial refueling missions. COMSEC is so critical to modern military efforts that many units are even required to have at least one representative trained in COMSEC. This ensures strict adherence to COMSEC guidelines and safeguards against potential compromises that could occur during routine and essential communications.
COMSEC equipment requires external power sources and is typically powered, at least in part, by batteries. Portable power sources are critical for COMSEC equipment and ensure that vital communication efforts are not hindered by power outages or other issues associated with grid-based power.
To prioritize national security and safeguard the lives of troops and citizens, the U.S. government and military consistently pursue advancements to remain at the forefront of technology. Recent advances in the fields of energy and microelectronics have led the Department of Defense to prioritize upgrading current COMSEC systems with new devices that incorporate cutting-edge technology. Optimal upgrades would aim to extend the operational lifespan, enhance battery capabilities, and improve durability of COMSEC devices.
The desirability of extended device runtime before catastrophic failure is evident in the context of COMSEC devices. A longer average lifespan for COMSEC devices reduces the likelihood of critical failures at inopportune moments, especially in field-specific contexts.
Enhancements to batteries powering COMSEC devices offer numerous benefits. Traditional batteries degrade over time, with their capacity and performance continually decreasing. Battery degradation can also adversely affect other circuit components and contribute to decreased operational lifespans.
Portability—which is influenced by batteries and requires a careful balance between size and power capacity—is another important attribute for COMSEC devices.
Lastly, the length of time a battery can operate without the need for recharging or replacement is highly relevant to COMSEC. Ideally, COMSEC devices could operate for extended periods on a single charge, eliminating the need for spare batteries or frequent recharging. Replacing batteries can also introduce security risks and create opportunities for tampering, highlighting the importance of long-lasting batteries for both device functionality and security purposes.
Increased durability of COMSEC devices offers perhaps the most evident benefit. Given that COMSEC devices are commonly deployed in military settings, including aircraft and combat environments, it is crucial that their critical electronic components are robust enough to endure intense vibrations, shocks, and other potentially hazardous environmental conditions.
City Labs is a global leader in nuclear battery technology. We have pioneered novel NanoTritium™ batteries that generate power from the radioactive decay of tritium, a naturally occurring hydrogen isotope. These batteries boast an incredible lifespan of 20+ years, ultra-low-power capabilities, and have undergone rigorous, independent testing to ensure resiliency against extreme temperature variation and other harsh environmental stressors, such as radiation, vibration, altitude, etc.
NanoTritium™ battery technology holds immense potential for diverse applications that can greatly benefit from its staple attributes of low-power consumption, long lifespan, and exceptional durability. Motivated by the substantial importance of these electronics to national security and defense, the United States has recently emphasized and prioritized microelectronics research and development, furthering the demand for novel power solutions. NanoTritium™ batteries can output incredibly small amounts of power in the milliwatt and microwatt range, making them ideal for powering microelectronic components.
A COMSEC device powered by a NanoTritium™ battery could operate seamlessly for multiple decades without the need for recharging the battery backup power for its cryptographic key connection, all while maintaining the essential robustness required for deployment in military settings. The many benefits provided by this innovative battery technology directly align with the desired improvements prioritized by the Department of Defense, offering significant promise in advancing United States COMSEC efforts and strengthening national security interests.