Countering the consumerization of IT

Consumer-oriented smart phones and gadgets are infiltrating the government workplace, adding new security and management problems

The feverish adoption of iPads — and their arrival in the hands of some federal users — highlighted the consumerization of enterprise IT as an important trend in 2010.

Apple sold nearly 7.5 million iPads in the first two quarters the devices were available for sale, from April through September. That buying spree followed the wave of iPhone adoption that began in 2007.

But Apple isn’t the only consumer influence in the enterprise. Smart phones that run Google’s Android mobile operating system began outselling iPhones in recent months. And a number of vendors are expected to join Apple in the media tablet category, which fills a niche between laptops and smart phones.

Personal devices have already made their way into some government offices. Meanwhile, agency IT departments are gearing up for what could become the greatest device management task since the arrival of PCs more than a quarter-century ago. Fittingly, many IT shops are working on approaches for dealing with the implications of consumer technology invading the workplace.

“Use of many of these consumer-grade mobile devices is limited as we continue to try to identify security and management solutions that will scale at an enterprise level,” said Rob Glenn, IT security officer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Glenn said device-level encryption validated against FIPS 140-2 requirements is essential for broad use of consumer technology. He noted that iPad and iPhone modules are in the early stages of the validation process.

Another big security problem is how easily the devices let users download applications. Much of the popularity of smart phones and media tablets stems from the variety of readily available applications. But agencies see indiscriminate downloading as a recipe for viruses.

Agencies are taking a range of stances on security, said Lee Koepping, senior director of technical solutions at Iron Bow Technologies, a government solutions provider that operates a security practice. Most agencies are enforcing a security policy that includes device encryption, transmission encryption and single-factor authentication.

To deal with application security, he cited white listing as the most popular trend. With this method, agencies let users download only approved applications and block all others. Some agencies also use antivirus platforms designed for mobile devices.

The quest for security will no doubt continue next year. But the anticipated bevy of new product options might emerge as the most notable development in 2011, adding more force to the consumerization trend. Apple’s iPad might have launched the media tablet category, but offerings from Samsung and Dell recently hit the market, and additional competition is expected in the coming months.

“The foremost change you are going to see is more vendors,” said Jeff Orr, a principal analyst at ABI Research.

The new tablets will feature a mix of operating systems, including Android and Microsoft Windows 7. And that brings up another issue that agencies will need to navigate in 2011 and beyond: standardization.

Problems aside, consumer technologies look set to become increasingly common in the federal workplace.

“I honestly think widespread adoption is coming,” Koepping said. “It is a movement that is not going to go away.”

Read more of 6 ideas with some 2011 bounce or return to the 2011 Federal List.

About the Author

John Moore is a freelance writer based in Syracuse, N.Y.

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