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Keeping Mobile Computing Both Secure and Productive for Federal Workers

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A new study by Mobile Work Exchange (summarized here and available here) found some surprising trends in federal workers’ use of mobile technology and mobile security.  While use of mobile devices is now widespread among federal workers resulting in boosts to worker productivity, security implications are worrisome.

Mobile devices are clearly a boon to federal agencies: according to the study 95% of workers felt that using mobile devices had improved their productivity. Federal employees reported they were working nine extra hours each week, thanks to mobile access to data and services. This increase delivers $28 billion annually in value to government agencies.

The study highlighted the popularity of mobile devices in the federal agencies. Laptops are nearly ubiquitous; 93% of workers use them. Most workers (64%) also have smartphones, and nearly one out of five has a tablet. Ninety-five percent said they use mobile devices to access work-related content outside the office.

Federal agencies are famous for their strict data security policies, but the study found a broad divergence between official IT policies and the daily work habits of mobile users.

Forty-nine percent of employees surveyed use personal mobile devices for agency business, but only 11% work in agencies that had formally adopted Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies governing the use of personal computing devices for work. Like their counterparts in private enterprises, government employees are “going mobile” before IT departments have had a chance to put comprehensive policies and security in place.

IT’s lack of involvement is leaving mobile workers and mobile devices vulnerable to serious security risks. Only 27% of devices were configured to use multi-factor authentication when accessing agency data, and 33% of devices lacked any password protection whatsoever. Only 24% of tablets and smartphones were equipped with remote data deletion software. If those devices are lost or stolen, the agency IT team has no way of preventing the data on those devices from leaking to outsiders.

The lack of on-device password protection, multi-factor authentication, and remote data deletion functionality shows that the mobile productivity gains of federal workers may be coming at the price of increased exposure to mobile security threats.

The Mobile Work Exchange findings suggest that If federal agencies are to take full advantage of the BYOD revolution additional focus is needed on deploying mobile solutions that boost both mobile security and worker productivity.

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