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Are Mobile Devices Federal Cybersecurity’s Achilles Heel?

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As the number of mobile devices used by federal agencies and contractors continues to grow, the need for better security is expanding exponentially.

Whether they’re identifying terrorists, capturing criminals, saving lives, or delivering any number of other public services, federal agencies and their workers are using more laptops, tablets, and handheld tablets to get the job done.

Within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) alone, more than 38% of employees have government-issued mobile devices—totaling approximately 90,000 devices in use. According to a recent Panasonic survey, over the next two years, this number will only increase, thanks in part to the growing number of employees, but also in response to shifting DHS priorities. 

Exposed to attacks

With more than two-thirds of survey respondents calling rugged and semi-rugged mobile devices “important” to their work—and 97% expecting the importance to increase over the next two years—federal agency field personnel, remote workers, IT personnel, executives, and contractors all use mobile devices as part of their day-to-day routines.

For these federal workers, cybersecurity remains a key concern. And while the government has strict security standards, a recent Government Business Council (GBC) poll suggests that 39% of respondents lack confidence in their mobile devices’ security. 

That lack of confidence is warranted. Unlike desktops and office-based laptops that agencies have controlled,  locked down and made less vulnerable based on years of experience, many of their mobile devices still remain exposed to attacks. “And because federal and contractor executives carry smartphones and tablets around almost wherever they go,” Federal News Network reports, “the hackers, nation states, and other adversaries see them as an avenue to steal data.”

Even as the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Committee on National Security Systems work to secure mobile device usage, the environment “remains complex and in need of better ways to secure and manage data, apps, and devices,” Federal News Network points out. 

Real threats, real problems

According to the DHS, threats to government mobile devices are real and exist across all elements of the mobile ecosystem. “The enhanced capabilities that mobile devices provide, the ubiquity and diversity of mobile applications, and the typical use of the devices outside the agency’s traditional network boundaries require a security approach that differs substantially from the protections developed for desktop workstations,” DHS points out.

Systems managed by DoD, DHS, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Personnel Management, and other agencies hold a significant amount of sensitive but unclassified information. If this information is comprised it could adversely impact the organization’s operations, assets, or individuals. Not to mention, databases controlled by these organizations hold tremendous amounts of personally identifiable information (PII) that could potentially be used to compromise citizens financial wellbeing, privacy, or identity. 

On the move and at rest

Whether data is on the move—via laptops, tablets, mobile broadband, and Wi-Fi networks—or at rest, securing sensitive government information is essential. Purposely built to meet the environmental, workflow, and security needs of enterprise mobility customers, Panasonic TOUGHBOOK mobile laptops, tablets, and handheld computers all include various enterprise-level security features. These features help federal agencies address their data security, device access privileges, network connectivity, and security needs in a number of ways: 

  • Basic data access security for mobile devices. In general, strong PINs, password complexity, and auto-lock timeouts on mobile devices offer the first defense against unauthorized mobile data access.

 

  • Mobile device access privileges. A number of internal and external controls beyond software and hardware encryption exist to provide additional device protection.

 

  • Mobile device security. To ensure a highly secure level for mobile devices, agencies can also use mobile device management (MDM), asset tracking, BIOS-embedded agents, and lock slots that are integrated into the hardware and help ensure physical device security.

 

  • Asset tracking. Integrated with an Mobile Device Management solution, mobile-based asset tracking provides real-time updates on the location, condition, and physical custody of a particular piece of equipment.

As the number of mobile devices being placed in federal workers’ and contractors’ hands continue to proliferate, the need for enhanced security will increase exponentially. Agencies that understand the risks and protocols involved with protecting mobile devices will be better equipped to ward off potential threats. They will also promote safe usage practices among employees and contractors which, as the number of mobile devices continues to grow, will be in everyone’s best interest going forward. 

Recognizing that security of agency and citizen data requires a multi-layered apporach, Panasonic is focused on offering highly secure, reliable and configurable mobile laptops, tablet and handheld tablets for the Department of Defense, Armed Services and all federal government agencies and their workers. 

If you would like to learn more about how Panasonic TOUGHBOOK rugged laptops and tablets can be custom configured to support enhanced security requirements, contact us at toughbook@us.panasonic.com.