The shadow teleworkers: How informal arrangements threaten security

Unofficial arrangements making telework the new reality, bringing security questions to the forefront

Editor's Note: A version of this story was originally published in Government Computer News.

How many feds work from home or other remote locations?

The most honest answer is, no one knows for sure. The Office of Personnel Management reported recently that the number grew by more than 11,000 from 2008 to 2009, and that slightly more than 10 percent of eligible employees — or 5.72 percent of all federal employees — are teleworking.

These figures might not reflect the reality of government telework, however, according to both OPM and outside sources. In an Employee Viewpoint Survey conducted by OPM, 22 percent of federal employees reported they did some teleworking in 2009, many via unwritten, ad hoc arrangements.

Other studies suggest the numbers are even higher. A 2008 survey by the Telework Exchange reported that 42 percent of federal employees teleworked at least part of the time, and in a recent survey of federal workers by the Government Business Council for CDW Government, 89 percent of workers surveyed reported that they work outside the office, more than half of them at least weekly.

“However we feel about telework, people are working outside of the office,” said Josh Sawislak, a senior fellow with the Telework Exchange. “That’s the new reality.”

Much of this telework is casual, with employees using personal laptops, smart phones and other personal devices to check work e-mail, work on documents and make work-related phone calls while out of the office. While that does mean efforts to encourage telework may be even more effective than the official numbers show, it also puts a greater burden on IT administrators to ensure connections and devices do not compromise data.

Is the technology in place to ensure that remote workers are working securely? “That’s the question I wake up to at night,” said Josh Radlein, an inside solutions architect at CDW-Government.

The technology to tighten remote-access security  can be burdensome for employees. Eighty-six percent of the workers questioned in the Government Business Council survey said that security measures had prevented them from accessing information they needed while working remotely. Thwarted employees often find ways around security to do what they want, which can create additional threats no matter where they are working.

“Security is always a challenge, regardless of telework,” said Cindy Auten, general manager of the Telework Exchange.

To read the orginal, full-length article at GCN.com, including recommendations for agencies, click here.

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