The mobile devices finding their way into agencies -- whether agency-issued or BYOD -- entail a lot of freedom of choice. The list of approved smart phones and tablets is large and includes the Apple iPhone in many agencies.
But using an iPhone can put users at risk, not because of some security flaw, but simply because it’s a hot phone right now, and the most prone to being stolen. Theft of iPhones even has a name. It's called “Apple picking,” with brazen thieves are stealing them right out of people's hands, according to USA Today. And victims who resist sometimes find that the thieves are willing to defend their ill-gotten gains with violence.
In fact, the deputy police commissioner for New York City says that, although overall crime rates in the city have gone up 3 percent overall this year, if Apple picking is factored out, crime rates have actually dropped, CNN reported. So it's a pretty big problem.
To combat the thefts, Apple has announced a feature, Activation Lock, that locks down iPhones and iPads, making them much less attractive to thieves. Not quite a kill switch, this new feature was touted as part of Apple's presentation at the Worldwide Developer's Conference this week.
It would require an Apple ID and password before the "Find My iPhone" program (which helps people locate a lost phone from a second iOS device) could be turned off or before any data is erased. So if a thief snatches an iPhone, the device would be able to broadcast its position constantly once it's reported stolen or a user scans for it, while preventing any data from being erased. The thief would be carrying around a phone that could direct police, or angry victims, right to him with no way to turn it off. You have to think that would cut down on its resale value.
Apple says this new feature will be part of iOS 7 when it rolls out this fall.
Once thieves realize that stealing an iPhone is a losing proposition, they probably will stop doing it, especially those who end up getting caught. Of course, that's if nobody figures out how to disable the new security feature. But even then, that skill level is likely going to be beyond what the average thief is capable of doing on short notice.
And if it does prove effective, it’s likely that other device makers will add a similar feature to their phones, giving agencies another security tool for managing mobile devices. Setting up remote lock/wipe capabilities is a recommended best practice for mobile devices used on the job, though employees might resist that approach when it comes to their own phones. Having a variation of that protection — in this case, preventing access while broadcasting its location — built in to a phone or tablet might just make things easier.
Posted by John Breeden II on Jun 12, 2013 at 11:13 AM2 comments
In the early days of mobile computing (before the iPhone), I used to say that one day smart phones would be nothing more than enterprise clients, with all the associated power and inherent security risks. This was back when Palm, Hand Held and BlackBerry held sway, and personal digital assistants were only starting to evolve into smart phones.
Very few people believed that prediction, though one friend who worked in the Navy on the IT staff for a ship did, because he saw the security implications. He pointed out that in the old days of the Navy, sailors would go on leave and come back will all kinds of strange diseases that would need to be treated in the medical bay. Today, he said (around 2006), sailors go ashore and bring back all kinds of strange viruses and problems on their handheld phones, which needed to be treated by the IT department. But other than that one friend, I didn't really know anyone who thought that phones would become network clients, similar to desktop PCs.
Today of course, everyone knows how prolific smart phones are, and how much they’re becoming part of the enterprise, in public-sector agencies and elsewhere. Not only do they have powerful capabilities, but they easily log into networks via WiFi signals.
But I was still surprised by the results of the latest Experian survey. It found that Americans are on their phones an average of 58 minutes each day.
Surprisingly, talk time is only 26 percent of the total. The rest of the time the smart phones are being used to surf the Web, send text messages, check e-mail, use a social network or play games.
And although talking is still the No. 1 time-consuming application for smart phones, its lead is slipping. Texting is right behind at 20 percent, with social networking at 16 percent.
Back in the days of the personal digital assistant, adding voice capabilities was generally thought to be the "killer app" that everyone would use in the future. But now it's become almost a secondary concern.
The implications for government, especially those experimenting or implementing BYOD programs, are significant. Phones really do have to be considered enterprise clients, not phones that happen to be able to perform some computer functions. That means dual-factor authentication for network log in, mobile virus and spyware scanning and even disability and Section 508 concerns need to be addressed. Because, like it or not, smart phones are now coming to work every day, and they aren't just talk.
Posted by John Breeden II on Jun 04, 2013 at 9:39 AM0 comments
It's pretty safe to say that government, and especially the military, is the driving force behind the creation of rugged gear. The standard set by the military, specifically the U.S. Military Standard 810 document, is the measure used to determine if a device is actually rugged, or simply hardened. Increasingly, Ingress Protection standards have also become important because they measure how much dust or water a device can stand before breaking.
Besides adding bulk to most products, ruggedizing gear can increase the cost. Most people won’t spend extra money for a rugged phone, especially if all it's going to do is make a comfortable commute from work to home once in a while. But military, law enforcement and other government personnel are often exposed to harsher conditions on the job, from thunderstorms to extreme temperatures to hostile environments, so rugged gear is needed.
So I was a little surprised to see that Caterpillar was releasing a fully-ruggedized smart phone that might be a good fit for both government and consumers. Called the B15, it’s a pretty sleek looking unit, with the ability to take a beating.
The B15 is an Android-based phone that runs the 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system. It's got a 4-inch WVGA display with the required Gorilla Glass for extra ruggedness and a shatter-proof screen. The whole thing is driven by a 1GHz MediaTek MT6577 Dual Cortex-A9 chip, so it's pretty speedy. And it even has some nice extras, like a 5-megapixel rear facing camera for teleconferencing and a lower-resolution front-facing camera for snapping pictures or taking video around a worksite. And it has built-in GPS navigation, complete with turn-by-turn directions.
In terms of ruggedness, Caterpillar says its new phone can withstand a drop of up to six feet, which would make it Mil-Std rugged for shock. It also has an IP 67 rating, meaning that it's totally impervious to dust (the 6 rating) and can survive for up to 30 minutes operating three feet underwater (the 7 rating) without fail.
What’s most impressive, however, is that the rugged specifications didn't seem to add much bulk to the phone. The B15 is only 4.9-inches by 2.7-inches and .58-inches thick. It weighs 0.37-pounds, so almost a lightweight. The price of the phone is also good for a rugged device, at $349 for an unlocked model that could be used with almost any network.
Of course there is a certain cool factor involved with anything branded with the Caterpillar, or CAT name. When you think of that company, images of giant tractors and bright yellow construction equipment come to mind. But the B15 looks to be a bona fide rugged smart phone in its own right, not just a branding scheme. Given government's interest and need for rugged gear, it's always great to see another device of that type make its way into the market.
Posted by John Breeden II on May 24, 2013 at 9:39 AM2 comments