News in Brief

Social Security data, smartphone encryption and DHS HQ

IG: Inconsistent mobile security puts SSA data at risk

The Social Security Administration lacks a consistent policy for allowing mobile devices to securely connect to agency systems, potentially putting sensitive data at risk, according to a recent report from SSA's Office of the Inspector General.

Auditors found that 30 percent of the agency's more than 4,000 BlackBerry devices were operating outside the agency's baseline configuration, which restricts use of third-party apps and disables location-based services.

Although SSA supports only a small number of non-BlackBerry devices, auditors found that there were no central controls in place to disable and wipe the devices if they were lost or stolen.

The agency agreed with the OIG's recommendations and plans to implement a uniform mobile security policy in December, improve employee training and develop standard security configurations for devices that connect to the agency's networks.

Holder takes swipe at Apple, Google encryption

Attorney General Eric Holder tweaked Apple and Google for their hardened smartphone encryption capabilities, calling it a worrisome trend that would make life easier for criminals.

"In some cases, perpetrators are using cloud storage to cheaply and easily store tens of thousands of images and videos outside of any home or business -- and to access those files from anywhere in the world," the outgoing attorney general said Sept. 30 in remarks at the biannual Global Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Online conference. "Many take advantage of encryption and anonymizing technology to conceal contraband materials and disguise their locations."

In an apparent swipe at Apple and Google later in his remarks, Holder said that although the Justice Department is working to build "strong partnerships with technology companies," it was worrisome to "see companies thwarting our ability" to protect children from predators using advanced technology such as smartphones.

When it released its new iOS 8 operating system in September, Apple said it would be unable to unlock phones that use the system. Google has said it also plans to incorporate unlockable encryption into its next Android operating system, due out this month.

Law enforcement officials contend that unbreakable encryption on smartphones will hamper criminal investigations, especially of child predators.

GSA contracts for more work on DHS headquarters

The General Services Administration is moving ahead with the next phase of developing the Department of Homeland Security's massive headquarters in southeast Washington, D.C., by awarding a contract to Maryland-based Grunley Construction Co. and D.C.-based Shalom Baranes Associates to renovate the historic Center Building on the St. Elizabeths campus.

When the refurbishment is complete, the 270,000-square-foot Center Building will serve as DHS headquarters and office space for 700 DHS employees.

The site will be the home for all 22 DHS component agencies. So far, only the Coast Guard has completed its new headquarters building at the site.

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