IG: DHS needs protection from employees' portable devices

Homeland Security Department IT officials are updating their policies on protecting their systems and information as portable devices become a regular part of government offices.

Richard Spires, DHS CIO, told the department inspector general that his office will coordinate with other DHS officials and component CIOs to have universal serial bus thumb drives added as sensitive personal property in asset management systems.

Spires informed the IG in a one-page letter dated June 1.The letter was released June 25 in an IG report on portable devices and the risks they can pose to DHS. The IG raised concerns that DHS didn't have enough checks on the devices.

Spires’ office will also working with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials to make sure Android and iPhone Operating System (iOS) devices comply with authentication requirements.

The IG reported that ICE enforces strong passwords, but there is no authentication to access the local Android and iOS devices. It opens the possibility of unauthorized individuals gaining access to DHS data stored on the local device.

Spires wrote that DHS is studying Android and iOS device regarding security. If ICE wants to use either device, officials would have to comply with the appropriate department-wide guidance on authentication.

Overall, the IG reported that DHS officials need to get a better grasp monitoring employees’ portal devices that they connect to secure servers and carry sensitive information.

The growing popularity and use of portable devices have introduced new security concerns for DHS and its agencies, demanding that officials set secure standards.

“Although portable devices may improve productivity, they also expose the department to new security risks, such as downloading viruses or inadvertently exposing sensitive information or personally identifiable information,” the report states.

DHS faces challenges in both deploying devices to carry out its mission and improving the productivity of its increasingly mobile workforce.

Agencies are using potentially insecure integrated functions that are required for their mission, the report states. It raises the concerns of security controls to safeguard portable devices and the sensitive information they can carry.

It adds that DHS has not developed detailed configuration settings for Android- and iOS-based portable devices. Its agencies are not consistently applying the required encryption on portable devices, nor have they fully implemented the required DHS security settings.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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