BYOD catches CIOs off guard

 A prize goes to any CIO whose strategic planning document two years ago had "develop security policy for employee-owned mobile devices" as a top priority in 2012.

The truth is that mobile’s sudden rise has caught many CIOs off guard, and most agencies lack provisions to manage and secure personal devices’ access to government networks and information. But such safeguards in the form of codified bring-your-own device policies are needed — and soon.

Nearly 60 percent of federal agencies lack appropriate tools for handling non-agency-issued mobile devices on their networks, according to a survey by Network World and SolarWinds, as reported by Camille Tuutti on

That might not be so troubling if employees weren’t using their smart phones for work, but multiple surveys indicate that they are. For example, nine out of 10 companies said their employees are already using personal devices for work, according to a survey by the IT services firm Avanade.

If the use of personal devices is as rampant in government as general surveys suggest, it can’t be good news that many of those people are apparently so careless about security, wrote Kevin McCaney in Government Computer News, citing a study by ESET and Harris Interactive. 

Of the four out of five people in that survey who say they use their personal devices for work, more than half fail to take the most basic steps to secure their devices and data. Less than one-third of smart phone users turn on the device’s auto-lock and password-protection feature, and only about one-third encrypt data on their personal devices. Security could be improved immediately by requiring those basic measures as part of a BYOD policy, the study states.

But one reader who commented on the GCN story said the issue is more complicated than it appears and that IT departments will struggle to enforce standards on personal devices. "Do I have the right to physically restrain an employee and take his/her personal [handheld device] to ensure it is password-protected because it was used to access [Outlook Web Access] to get company mail?" the reader asked.

Physical intervention wouldn’t be necessary if employees were required to sign a BYOD agreement that gives the employer the right to install software that can remotely wipe all the data from a device if it is lost or stolen. That approach is taking off in the private sector at companies such as Kimberly-Clark, among others, reported Sarah Fister Gale in Workforce Management.

The General Services Administration has had a similar policy in place as part of its BYOD pilot program, which began last year. However, Veterans Affairs Department officials decided that a BYOD policy was not currently feasible due to uncertainties about responsibility for repairs and investigations and other contingencies.

What is clear is that agencies need to do their homework when developing BYOD policies. Casey Sipe, a management-side labor and employment attorney in Pennsylvania, wrote in his blog, "The Employer's Lawyer," that "from a legal standpoint, ownership of the smart phone or tablet is irrelevant in case of a lawsuit." Current discovery rules require litigation parties to preserve all relevant electronic data, including information stored on employee devices.

If an employer determines that the benefits of allowing BYOD are worth the risks and added responsibilities, the supporting policy must be clear and easily understood by employees, Sipe wrote. That includes requirements for data encryption and possible restrictions on some activities, such as accessing certain kinds of content or conducting business on personal messaging or e-mail accounts.

About the Author

John Zyskowski is a senior editor of Federal Computer Week. Follow him on Twitter: @ZyskowskiWriter.

Cyber. Covered.

Government Cyber Insider tracks the technologies, policies, threats and emerging solutions that shape the cybersecurity landscape.


Reader comments

Mon, May 21, 2012 Successful Suzy

Thank you for the thorough write up on BYOD! I so wish that CIOs could come together and create something that works for everyone. BYOD is such a challenge and it is obviously something that we need to overcome together. Being in the medical industry, we are dealing with the bring your own device ( byod ) issue from an HIPAA stand point, and how it applied to hospitals who are dealing with doctors and nurses who are texting patient information and files. I think this is also a big issue for any business, your workers BYOD devices not only get hacked, but they are frequently lost or stolen, and much of the emails and texts are on the phone! iPads are a real problem, since doctors like viewing patient data, files and images on them, and iMessage is not HIPAA compliant, just like email. While the large enterprise solutions having a deeply integrates system where the IT department takes control of the device or provides workers with devices, in a hospital and business setting I am hearing that this can be an issue or barrier to these kinds of systems. Looking around, we did find a way to at least protect text messaging and protect the hospital from lawsuits concerning HIPAA issues related with BYOD by using Tigertext ( ); which while not as integrated as the large enterprise solutions, offers some really good benefits, especially cost and device flexibility. IT managers, but also employees are really going to have to be aware of all the different solutions available for BYOD and security - especially iPADs. Resources:

Wed, May 2, 2012 Cowboy Joe

"Agile doesn't mean thoughtless." Outstanding! I think it was Beck that indicated "agile" requires MORE discipline than any other methodology. That said - gotta' put some blame on the vendors too; Google, MS, even Apple have been more interested in making it easy to collect data for their marketing purposes than engineering their systems around security, and as was recently pointed out, the rest of us geeks still think like we're back in the days of the four node "internet" when everybody on it could be trusted - or fired or flunked.

Wed, May 2, 2012 FedUpFed

SES will continue proclaim their exhalted status as justification for ignoring new policies just as they do current policies. Their management will follow that example and, by extension, fail to enforce those policies within their departments because of the hypocracy in doing so. When the inevitible data breach occurs all management will blame IT for failing to do through technology what they refuse to do through management.

Wed, May 2, 2012 Henry

The DoD had had a strong policy for years to monitor, inspect, and confiscate as desired any computer/device that connect to a DoD system. Its part of the Consent / warning banner on many DoD websites -- like AKO.

Wed, May 2, 2012 Zappo

In the DoD, BYOD devices are banned on the network yet people still use smartphones all the time for work. Both are true. Consider... 1.) NIPR blocks websites you need to do your work while your smartphone with far-less-filtered Internet access enables you to get your work done. 2.) Desk phones are nice but to reach people you need their cell. Rarely do DoD folks carry their DoD Blackberry (with all its calling constraints) and a personal phone. People would rather just be called on one device.

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