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Mobile security: A growing and changing threat vector

Nov. 27, 2013
Paige Atkins is Vice President for Cyber and IT Research at the Virginia Tech Applied Research Corp., and former Director for Strategic Planning and Information at DISA.
Paige Atkins is Vice President for Cyber and IT Research at the Virginia Tech Applied Research Corp., and former Director for Strategic Planning and Information at DISA. (Michael T. Kiernan)

National and international crises, military operations, and running critical infrastructure or other businesses demand global situational awareness, consultation and collaboration with distributed partners, access to actionable information for near-real-time decision-making, and effective and timely response — anytime and anywhere. Decisions must be accurate and based on the best available information and advice available and must be supported with not only voice, data and video, but also the applications necessary to execute any of these roles.

How do you do that? It is all about mobility. We all know we want and need to take full advantage of advances in commercial technologies, but doing so securely continues to be a challenge, not only for general enterprise use, but also for mission critical functions (military, public safety and civilian senior leadership, for example). And it is not just about the mobile devices — it is about the ability to get to information and applications as needed and as authorized — anywhere, anytime — which includes the enabling infrastructure, user devices and applications of all types. It is a growing and changing threat vector and we must address security throughout not only the mobile infrastructure, but the entire information environment supporting it.

The most significant challenge in deploying mobility solutions is security. There are challenges to include multiple information security risks inherent in commercial mobile devices, their operating systems, their applications and their information networks. These risks can be mitigated using traditional and nontraditional security techniques and leveraging the intelligence inherent in today’s commercial mobile capabilities. And we must mitigate these risks if mobile users are to effectively and securely operate.

There are a tremendous number of efforts underway within the Defense Department, other government organizations, industry and academia to provide enhanced secure mobility solutions. Efforts encompass improvements to end-user device security, initiatives that provide enterprise-level capabilities, improved access control to information and secure applications. However, as we look at mobility investments, we must also adequately assess performance, scalability, maturity and the likelihood and speed of technical obsolescence — across not just individual solutions, but aggregate sets of solutions. This is not easy or timely, however we can speed this discovery process by more fully leveraging private-public partnerships and dialogue. Each of us has a role to play in this important ecosystem. The challenges are effectively engaging and prioritizing across the multitude of efforts underway.

The bottom line is that we all (government, industry, academia) want the same thing. We want to be able to take advantage of technology to do things better, faster, cheaper; and to create a platform for innovation so we can continuously ingest new technologies while always ensuring the privacy and security of our users and our missions. And though technology can be challenging, it is not the hardest issue — we must also address policy, process and culture. But the benefits are clear: to ensure we get viable and effective solutions that enhance productivity while minimizing risk, and that can be leveraged across private and public sector requirements.

We have made a lot of progress, however we must keep the momentum going and continue to enhance our public-private partnerships to take it to the next level.


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