Much has been written lately about the proposed switchover by government offices from BlackBerries to iPhones and the relative pros and cons of the proposed shift. With such a switch come the exciting possibilities that new technology brings, but also the inherent security risks that government workers dealing in sensitive information must be concerned about. One company that has attempted to address these legitimate concerns is McLean, Virginia based Trust Digital.
OhMyGov! recently had the chance to speak with Dan Dearing, Trust Digital's Vice President of Marketing and Product Management, about his company's efforts to offer security to government agencies considering upgrading their smartphone capabilities.
Dearing describes his company as specializing in assisting enterprises that are interested in globalization but need to secure and manage their information systems. He added that Trust works with agency IT support to provide "a software solution and technical support for a wide variety of devices."
While Dearing noted that the iPhone 3G is "the first device to really merge business and pleasure, voice and data," and is generally compatible with government IT systems, he questioned its ability to secure confidential communications. Although the new iPhone works seamlessly with Microsoft Exchange and can easily plug into agency IT systems, the "tools aren't there yet for security."
In working with the Department of Defense to help secure their mobile devices, Dearing and the people at Trust noticed a demand for increased security from the rank-and-file who were concerned about the vulnerability of their devices and sensitive files to theft. In response, the company rolled out new security and support features for their clients, including work on a "Remote Wipe Service." This would allow clients whose devices had been misplaced or stolen to contact Trust directly and report the problem. Trust would then remotely lock the device and erase any sensitive information that may be stored on the device. Not a bad feature if you happen to leave your mp3 player/telephone/covert correspondence with the Pentagon in the backseat of a cab at the end of a long night.
The most pressing concerns of Trust Digital's clients, says Dearing, is the aforementioned remote wiping capabilities, tougher PIN/Password protection (apparently "12345" isn't a great password, who knew?), and serious encryption capabilities that aren't built-into the iPhone 3G. To address these concerns, Trust plans on introducing an encryption plan later this year.
Of course security isn't just a concern for iPhone users or for rank-and-file federal workers. Much was written during the recent interregnum about President Obama's reluctance to give up his beloved BlackBerry. The digital device, which seemed to never leave Obama's side on the campaign trail, was considered too much of a security risk to be used by the new Commander-in-Chief. Any e-mails that Obama sends on the device can be subject to public review under the Presidential Records Act. They also may be brought under public review by a dedicated hacker. A chance no elected official likely wants to take.
However, in the days since the inauguration it has become clear that Obama might just have been allowed to keep his digital friend after all. The Atlantic has reported that the National Security Agency has outfitted Obama's BlackBerry with a "super-encryption" feature to guard against security lapses. The First Phone lives to see another day after all.
Of course, all of the back and forth over iPhones or BlackBerrys only lasts until the next great thing comes along. And that might just be the Palm Pre. Remember Palm Pilots? Those electronic life managers that took the technology world by storm back when The Simpsons was still funny and no one had ever heard of a hanging chad?
At last week's Consumer Electronics Show, Palm made a comeback that would put Mickey Rourke to shame. So the iPhone's dominance might end up being relatively short lived; only time will tell on that point.
It certainly is a heady time in the world of smartphones and the public servants who love them. With so much cutting edge technology out on the market, and more on the way, it might be necessary for those in government to step back, take a deep breath, and ask themselves "Which of these devices, if any, will best serve us and offer us the security that we so uniquely need?" With security factored into the equation, the answer today appears to be more BlackBerry than iPhone, but companies like Trust Digital may change all that very soon.