Federal Government Allowing More Personal Mobile Devices: Study

A new report by CDW's government division shows that federal workers are using their own mobile devices on the job. The question now is how does IT secure all these devices?

It might be called a case of extreme bring-your-own-device (BYOD) syndrome. A growing number of federal employees, including many in the defense or national security industries, are using their own smartphones, tablets and laptops for work, according to a new report by CDW Government (CDW-G).

The "Federal Mobility Report" examines how government workers use mobile devices and the challenges they bring to security.

CDW-G provides IT services to government agencies as well as education and health care. The company released the results of its survey on Feb. 7. For the report, CDW-G interviewed 414 federal employees and IT staff. Respondents worked in civilian, defense or intelligence agencies.

In November, the Obama administration ordered that federal agencies limit the amount of mobile devices they provide to employees, potentially leading to the rise of personal mobile devices in government. In fact, 62 percent of federal agencies now allow employees to use their own mobile devices at work.

Meanwhile, 56 percent of federal employees use government-provided mobile devices and 44 percent of federal employees use their own, CDW-G reports.

"Each agency should take steps to limit the number of IT devices (e.g., mobile phones, smartphones, desktop and laptop computers, and tablet personal computers) issued to employees, consistent with the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 (Public Law 111 292), operational requirements (including continuity of operations), and initiatives designed to create efficiency through the effective implementation of technology," President Obama wrote in an executive order dated Nov. 9.

Employees using their own mobile devices at work have led to the BYOD catchphrase.

"Given the executive order that asked agencies to limit the number of IT devices they issue to employees, including mobile devices, we expect that future growth of mobile device use is likely to be of the BYOD variety," Neal Campbell, CDW's senior vice president and chief marketing officer, wrote in an email to eWEEK.

About 99 percent of all federal agencies have deployed mobile devices to workers in their agencies, CDW-G reports.

"Mobility is no longer just a nice-to-have capability among the federal workforce," said Campbell. "It's the norm."

Federal agencies, like all industries, realize that mobile devices boost productivity and improve customer service, Campbell noted.

Of federal employees who use mobile devices, 89 percent said the devices make them more productive, and 69 percent of federal employees interviewed said mobile access would lead them to serve citizens better.

Of the federal workers surveyed, 58 percent of defense employees were likely to use a personal device for work, compared with 30 percent for civilian government employees.

With more federal employees using mobile devices, government IT managers will need to use mobile device management (MDM) applications to keep both agency and personal devices secure, said Campbell.

Customized security products from companies, such as AirWatch and BoxTone, allow IT workers to centrally manage encryption, multifactor authentication, remote lock and wipe, as well as data-loss prevention. Good Technology also offers security for smartphones that run Apple iOS and Google Android.

Regarding data that can be a potential security threat, 86 percent of federal employees viewed email, 44 percent had access to personally identifiable information and 37 percent accessed employee records. Meanwhile, 31 percent could view financial data and 24 percent of respondents had access to classified information.

Despite concerns of security breaches from mobile use, 82 percent of respondents said their agencies did employ encryption, and 54 percent said their agencies used multifactor authentication. Slightly less than half of respondents' agencies used remote wipe, however.

Although federal workers are quick to adopt mobile devices, they're slower to use the apps on the devices. The report reveals that 54 percent of agencies have developed apps for work use, but only 12 percent of government employees have downloaded job-related apps.

Federal agencies aren't alone in accepting personal devices in the workplace. About 60 percent of companies are adapting their IT infrastructure to accommodate employees' personal devices, according to a Jan. 25 report by IT services provider Avanade.