Mobile Security, the Feds and BlackBerry

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    Federal workers and private industry use the same mobile devices and systems. However, they seem to be in different places in terms of how well they handle security.

    Cisco and The Mobile Work Exchange have released research that suggests that neither people in private industry nor in the government do a great job of securing mobile devices. However, according to “The 2014 Mobilometer Tracker: Mobility, Security, and the Pressure in Between,” federal workers are doing a bit better.

    Baseline provides several numbers that, overall, raise concerns about federal workers. For instance, 41 percent of these folks exhibit risky behavior. All in all, however, they do better than their counterparts in private industry:

    Even though there is room for improvement in mobile security in the government sector, those employees still proved far more cautious about taking security precautions than employees from private industry who responded to the survey. For example, while 15 percent of government employees said they had downloaded a nonwork-related app on a work-related mobile device, 60 percent of respondents from the private sector said they had done so. In addition, 53 percent of government agencies require employees to take mobile device security training, but just 13 percent of private sector firms have that requirement.

    Federal Times offers a story on efforts to secure Air Force smartphones to a point that they meet military requirements, without losing their functionality. Several ideas were broached in what the site calls “a recent broad agency announcement.” One concept involves storing digital identities in Micro SD cards, which can then be inserted into smartphones. Near-field communications may replace common access card (CAC) readers. The budget for research in this area has been set at $24 million through 2018.

    It’s a bit ironic that mobile security may be the saving grace of beleaguered BlackBerry. Of course, the company’s strength in security won’t restore it to its former glory (nothing will), but may provide a road to survival. Insiders say that despite the company’s well-publicized problems, it remains the gold standard in mobile security.

    Its security assets are the main reason that BlackBerry always has enjoyed strong ties to the feds – ties upon which it is building. George Kesarios, writing at Seeking Alpha, pointed to a lot of government business for the Canadian firm:

    For the record, the total amount of devices that the DoD will eventually order, when their new secure MDM platform is fully operational, will be north of 500,000 devices. And while the DOD is currently only using about 80,000 BlackBerry devices form it current inventory, eventually I expect the DOD to order most of their devices for its new MDM network from BlackBerry anyway. And the number will not be 80,000 but much bigger than that.

    At the CES last month, the company said that it will create a security innovation center in Washington, DC, according to InformationWeek. The site drew the same dynamic that exists in the enterprise: The emergence of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the related growth over the past decade of use of the Android and iOS operating systems are broadening the landscape of devices with which Federal IT departments must deal. The tension is whether the supposed superiority of BlackBerry’s security will suffice, or whether the other players will displace it in the federal sector as they have elsewhere.

    The story quotes Randy Siegel, who it says has long experience working with the government on behalf of companies such as Microsoft and Motorola Solutions:

    Siegel called BlackBerry’s key differentiator its network operations center, “where all the crypto magic happens.” He said the company will have a lead-to-market in terms of security certifications and hinted that BlackBerry would be the first to achieve a new certification that would boost its government business sometime in the next six months.

    The fate of BlackBerry remains uncertain. The decisions of the government, of course, are big deals. What it does on mobile security matters may throw a lifeline toward BlackBerry.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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