During a gala dinner and reception earlier this week Government Computer News (GCN) recognized the top government IT projects of the year. We’ve been profiling some of the winners, and today we’re congratulating the NIST Computer Security and Intelligent Systems divisions, which were honored in the “Mobile Testing & Security for Military Field Operations” category.

The Department of Defense (DoD) turned to NIST when it became apparent that secure smartphones were essential to its military mission. NIST was tasked with the challenge of testing and creating a process around how to secure and test the devices to meet DoD’s strict battlefield requirements. NIST created the software assurance methods, reliability tests and crypto tools that enabled the DoD to deploy modified commercial phones, which significantly cut development costs and protected our warfighters in the field.

NIST expertise was especially valuable in two areas: cybersecurity and software performance evaluation. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), under its Transformative Apps (TransApps) program, funded the NIST team of engineers and computer scientists.

Within a year after beginning in 2010, the NIST team delivered a batch of commercially available smartphones and a set of secure, soldier-defined apps to an Army brigade in Afghanistan. By 2013, about 4,000 mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) were deployed in Afghanistan, and an online apps store was up and running for soldiers to use. The app store site now features over 60 tools—from map displays to a calculator for estimating blast distances to language games—as well as regular upgrades.

One of the most effective apps is HeatMap, which color codes routes to indicate frequency of troop use, reminding soldiers to vary their travel patterns to avoid ambushes and IEDs.

Currently the time it takes to go from troop requirements to prototyped app can take just a week, sometimes even days! In addition to integration testing, all deployed apps undergo periodic user-centered testing with a NIST-developed “App Spot Checklist” that yields data for thorough statistical analysis. Camera usability, GPS accuracy, timing metrics, compass accuracy, and display usability are among the app and device features tested with NIST developed methods.

Congratulations to NIST for this award, and for bringing BYOD to the battlefield!