Ticking timebomb

Self-deleting e-mails: An enterprise nightmare?

Network administrators already have a lot on their plates as they adapt to challenges laid out by their agency’s mobile device policies. Lately they have something else to keep them up at night – self-destructing e-mails.

There are several apps available that will delete content sent from a mobile device after a specified timeframe. Snapchat, designed for sending photos, is one. Wikr, with which users can send encrypted, self-destructing voice, text or audio, is another.

There also are websites that let people send self-deleting messages, such as Burn Note, KickNotes and OneShar. On Burn Note, for instance, the sender writes a message, enters an e-mail address and sets the amount of time the message will be available. After that, it disappears.

This might sound like James Bond or “Mission: Impossible” stuff, but you can bet at least some of your users are thinking about using it.

The makers of these services promote them as a way for people to have private communications from their phones or other devices while also using those devices for work. The services do provide a measure of personal security. Jason Cipriani at CNet, for instance, points out that a message that self-destructs after being read once could come in handy when sending a loan officer your Social Security number.

But for government employees, these services could be a problem.

Federalstate  and local governments have established rules for storing e-mail and other electronic communications that constitute a public record. Not every e-mail needs to be kept, so a personal photo sent to a friend or a message setting a dinner date can be disposed of. But when a message disappears on its own, who’s to say what was in it.

A big fear about these services is that it would make leaks harder to trace, according to Information Week. Employee-caused data leaks are already common — whether accidental or intentional — but figuring out how information got out is much easier as long as the data and a trail still exists.

In some ways, apps like these could be a boon if used properly. Some agency rules, for instance, want e-mails that don’t qualify as public documents deleted after 90 days, in order to cut down on storage requirements. Setting them to delete automatically could save admins a little trouble. But again, who would decide which e-mails are to be kept or deleted?

As agencies develop their mobile and BYOD management practices, one recommendation is that they review apps before allowing users to add them to their devices. It would seem that these apps are better left outside the enterprise.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Jan 29, 2013 at 9:39 AM2 comments


Maj Olivia Elliott examines the LITENING II advanced targeting pod mounted on her A 10 Thunderbolt II

Air Force turns fighter planes into wireless routers

The U.S. Air Force recently announced that it had completed testing on a new “flying wireless router” system  that will help give ground forces real-time tactical information in the field.

The main difference between this router and a typical one is that this one is attached to fighter planes. It is essentially a software upgrade called Net-T, for network tactical, that is designed for the advanced targeting pods on some fighters and the B-1 bomber.

Ground units had been communicating with aircraft using the Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver-5 (ROVER-5), which is a small, arm-mounted touchscreen device about the size of a mini-tablet. These units could only communicate to planes in the air but not to other ROVER-5 units, which were likely out of their line-of-sight. But with the Net-T upgrade, ROVER-5 units can communicate directly with each other using the plane as a wireless router.

"The pilot still needs to be able to operate the pod effectively, even though ground troops could be sending data to each other using this enhancement," said Maj. Olivia Elliott, the 40th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS) A-10 flight commander who flew all of the required test missions for the A-10 Thunderbolt II (pictured above).

Once pilots initiate the transmit-in-Net-T mode on the pod, they don’t need to worry about it anymore, and can go about their already busy jobs. "It's a single button push," Elliott said. "After that the pilot must maintain within the range of the Rover's transmitter and stay within view of the users. There's little to no interference with airborne operations of the targeting pod."

The test team, operating out of Elgin Air Force Base, Fla., tested the router’s range as well as its capacity, by keeping track of the file sizes and types of files sent during the tests.

The 40th FLTS is still compiling the data from its testing, but once the results are released, it looks as if Net-T will be added to operational aircraft by 2014. Having closer to real-time data from various positions on the ground can only improve the speed and accuracy of command decisions.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Jan 24, 2013 at 9:39 AM0 comments


Screenshot of Chrome Beta silent extension disabler

Chrome Beta captures speech, but that's not the best part

Google’s recently released new Beta for its Chrome Browser  includes two major features, one of which will get a lot of attention even though the other probably deserves more.

The talk, as it were, of the new browser is Web Speech API, which will help JavaScript developers create new Web apps that involve speech recognition. Yes, this will be a boon to mobile users who aren’t used to typing on tiny keyboards, and any advancement in speech recognition will mean doing many things a lot faster.

Users will be able to compose e-mails and documents verbally and control the device with voice commands. Mobile users — which are increasingly common in the public sector — could find speech-to-text capability very handy, assuming Chrome can interpret your words without too many slip-ups.

In a quick test, a demo  for dictating an e-mail did well with simple sentences. It correctly transcribed “Four score and seven years ago,” though using numerals (“4 score and 7 years ago”). It substituted an adjective for the name, and left out some punctuation, in writing, “It's not personal sunny it’s strictly business.”  And it nailed “These are not the droids you're looking for.”

But as helpful as text-to-speech can be, I think the other feature will be a boon for IT administrators and employees who occasionally work on their personal machines. 

The Chrome Beta will automatically disable some extensions on Windows that may have been added by third-party programs without obtaining explicit user permission. Originally, the idea was to allow useful extensions to be installed along side of applications, asking users to opt-in before the extensions were installed. But lately, many companies have evaded that requirement, installing the extensions silently.

As a result, Chrome can become a bogged-down mess for users or admins who aren't diligently policing and disabling unwanted extensions. Unapproved extensions also create a security threat that public-sector employees using their devices for work.

Google says the Chrome Beta will disable these extensions and give users a single notification in case they actually want some of them. For users, this could speed up browsing with Chrome considerably. For IT staff, it could cut down on browser administration headaches.

Give the new Beta a spin and let us know which feature you find more useful.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Jan 22, 2013 at 9:39 AM0 comments