Apr 24 2012

Getting to “Yes” on Mobile Computing

Mobility is changing government, but to make full use of its benefits, security is paramount.

Mobile technology is changing the federal landscape as mobile devices have become ubiquitous throughout government.

To show how prevalent mobility is, the recent CDW•G “Federal Mobility Report: Security Edition” found that 99 percent of federal IT professionals said that their agencies have deployed mobile devices (the bulk of which were notebook PCs and smartphones) to employees.

Agencies are reaping significant benefits, but mobility comes with risk as well as promise. The National Defense University’s Robert Young pointed out last year that the military is a target every day, and mobile devices can represent a weak point in a network’s security. Still, they bring so much to the table that the Defense Department doesn’t want to say “no” any longer. The challenge is getting to “yes.”

And that challenge is growing as users are increasingly demanding the use of their own devices on agency networks. It can be difficult enough to make sure that agency-issued smartphones are secure, much less the phones that users bring from home that their children might play with and download apps to. But security concerns are not stopping most agencies from adopting “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies: 60 percent allow employees to use personal devices for work, the CDW•G report shows.

Federal IT professionals surveyed for the CDW•G mobility report also say that end-user compliance with security policies and sophisticated threats are the top barriers to secure mobile computing. Agencies are attacking these problems with both policy and technology.

Eighty-five percent of agencies have a data security policy for telework and mobile computing, and nearly the same percentage require that mobile users complete data security training, the report shows. Establishing a policy and training users to adhere to it is a good start to creating an effective security posture. More than 75 percent of agencies also have identified a manager to implement telework security policies, which is another important step.

On the technology front, several agencies are implementing mobile-device management systems, which offer wireless distribution of applications, data and configuration settings, for support. More than seven of 10 agencies have or will include MDM in their security efforts. But full deployment is at only 26 percent, suggesting that agencies are still looking for the technology that works best for them.

Virtualization is another technology that can boost mobile security. Several agencies have turned to virtual desktops for users who log on to their networks with mobile devices. Having all the computing done on a server at an agency data center greatly improves the security posture and helps keep important data off of mobile devices that can be lost or stolen.

Technologies like these are improving every day, and agencies should keep searching for one that meets their needs. Mobile computing is an important part of the way government operates now. It’s critical that agencies find a way to get to “yes.”

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