Aug 18 2011

Get the Most out of Mobile Computing — Securely

Agencies won't adopt mobile technology if they aren't confident that it's secure. Webinar speakers offer some options.

Security is the most important area that agencies must consider as they adopt mobile computing, said Dan Kent, Cisco Systems’ director of federal solutions and federal chief technology officer, during a recent FedTech webinar.

During the webinar, “Security on the Go: Mobile Devices in the Cloud,” Kent said that agencies won’t use mobile technology if they aren’t confident that it’s secure. Mobile computing lets users remain productive anywhere and at any time — whether that user is a soldier scanning a battlefield map on a smartphone or an inspector filing a report from an onsite inspection directly to a database via a tablet computer — but agencies must be able to manage mobile devices to maintain security, he added.

Apple’s iPad 2 offers numerous management options that improve the device’s security, said Chris Stone, an Apple Federal systems engineer for the Department of Homeland Security and the intelligence community, who also spoke during the webinar. The iPad 2’s security is “probably the biggest question mark that people come to Apple with,” said Stone. But the company has baked dozens of security features into the device, he said, including instant remote wiping capability and virtual private networks on demand.

Users have demanded that Apple tailor the iPad 2 toward work use in addition to its function as a personal device, Stone said. The latest version of its operating system, iOS 4, includes Mobile Device Management features that would let an agency remotely manage the security of the devices, including remote locking and restricting the use of certain applications.

Cisco and Apple — working together with VMware/Citrix, NetApp and BoxTone — have created a product suite designed to let agencies deploy the components for a secure mobile infrastructure served by a virtualized cloud environment.

On the Move

The ability to operate personal devices as virtual desktops and to run business intelligence apps are among the features that have fueled users’ creativity in finding ways to utilize iPads, Stone said. “It’s crazy how it has taken off,” he said. “We never could have imagined the ways people are using the iPad.”

Stone offered the example of the Homeland Security Department , which uses iPads as training devices. The department previously handed out “20 to 30 pounds of books” to employees undergoing training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, he said, but now it issues iPads — each weighing a little more than 1 pound — on which they can read all of the necessary texts, as well as take notes and perform other tasks.

That kind of utility has fueled the “consumerization of IT,” said Kent. Securing that IT is a challenge, but devices such as Cisco’s Adaptive Security Appliance provide what agencies are looking for, he said. The appliance sets up a VPN tunnel through which mobile devices can access an agency’s network securely, and it supports Apple’s iOS 4. 

Kent also touted Cisco’s IronPort Web Security Appliance, which he said can “act as a central point for signing on to cloud services” and can protect a network against spyware and other web-based threats.