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A vision for BYOD: Virtual smartphones

At the recent Government Mobility Forum, there was a lively discussion at a panel called “Empowering Tomorrow's Government Enterprise with Mobility.” During the question and answer session, two things became clear about the government's use of mobile devices. First, the reason that the vast majority of federal agencies standardized on the BlackBerry operating system is because it's stable, secure and seems tailor-made for government. And second, the recent popularity of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives in conjunction with BlackBerry's declining fortunes means the perfect marriage of company and customer is in trouble. 

And feds are rightly worried about what will come next.

Panelist Michael Tucker, the mobility application sales manager for AT&T talked about potential pitfalls of feds moving away from the BlackBerry OS. These included many known dangers, such as employees having access to unsecured social media, games and applications running on Apple's iOS and Google’s Android smartphones. Adding those open devices into government service could provide a gateway for malware and snooping tools that, once infected, could endanger a government network. 

One of the solutions Tucker advocated was turning all BYOD smartphones into platforms that could support both personal users and government needs at the same time. This is a unique idea that most devices only recently became powerful enough to support. 

AT&T has built a solution specifically for government  to address this issue. Called Toggle, it builds on many of the features found in the BlackBerry Balance program, which separate business and personal email. Only with Toggle, it isn't restricted to BlackBerry devices.

With Toggle, any smartphone can essentially become two smartphones that exist within the same device. One is totally open and unsecured for the user. The other is locked down for government service. Once the application is installed, it even allows phones to have two separate numbers and two separate work areas. 

In the first area, nothing is changed. Device owners can do whatever they want, and use the same number they always have. They can text, play games, interact with social media and visit Web pages just like they would with any personal phone that wasn't also being used for government service. The second work space, however, is locked down and totally controlled by government administrators. It even has a separate phone number.

Access to the government work space area under Toggle is password protected and all data stored there is encrypted. 

AT&T also offers the ability to host separate billing for the secure part of the phone. Using a cloud-based management interface, government administrators are able to control every aspect of the government side of the phone, including what applications are allowed to be installed and how much data can be used. They can even impose time or location restrictions on highly secure applications. The government side of the phone is protected with virus and malware scanners too, regardless of what protection the phone's owner is using over on his own partition.

To further keep government networks safe, no government information can be accidentally accessed from the personal side. If a user forgets and tries to access a government network without first switching over to the government partition, it would be as if someone from the outside was trying to get in, and he would be blocked by security.

A final advantage to Toggle is that users themselves can be managed by government administrators.  If someone leaves government, the government side of the partition on his device can be remotely disabled and deleted, without harming any of the user's personal data. 

The road to full BYOD adoption for government is likely to be a long and possibly painful process, but applications like Toggle could smooth out some of the bumps in the road.

Posted by John Breeden II on Dec 03, 2013 at 8:29 AM


Reader Comments

Fri, Dec 20, 2013

Dave, this is being driven by cheap bosses who don't want to shell out $60 a month per person for BlackBerry rental. That's all this is. The idea that Millenials are driving this is a myth.

Thu, Dec 19, 2013 Dave NorCal

Very dumb idea. The potential for egregious human error exists here by having a toggle with secure and non-secure virtual phones on the same mobile system. Flaky to say the least, like texting/phoning while driving, or chatting on unsecured WiFi. Keep private devices and official, secure devices physically separate. Is that too difficult to understand?

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