Army knocked over mobile device cybersecurity

Many cybersecurity sins found at US West Point and Corps of Engineers centre

Cybersecurity is lax for some 14,000 commercial mobile devices used at the US Military Academy and the United States Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center, according to a report released March 26 by the US Department of Defense Inspector General's office.

Not only had the Army's Chief Information Officer not implemented an effective cybersecurity program to manage the devices, the IG reported, but he was unaware that the 14,000 devices were being used throughout the Army by soldiers and civilians.

Cybersecurity sins found by the IG at West Point and Corps of Engineers centre included:

  • Absence of a mobile device management application to protect data on the devices;
  • Absence of a facility for wiping all data from a phone should it be lost or stolen;
  • Ability to use the devices as removable media for the storage of sensitive data; and
  • Absence of training and user agreements.

"These actions occurred because the Army CIO did not develop clear and comprehensive policy for CMDs [commercial mobile devices] purchased under pilot and non-pilot programs," the IG's report said.

"In addition, the Army CIO inappropriately concluded that CMDs were not connecting to Army networks and storing sensitive information," the report said. "As a result, critical information assurance controls were not appropriately applied, which left the Army networks more vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks and leakage of sensitive data."

In a response to the report, the Army's CIO said that policies are in place to address the concerns raised. He said that a request for proposal would be aired by the military branch this month and systems installed within the next 12 months to give it visibility of all devices and meet the governance and oversight recommendations.

[In-depth: MDM - Part of the mobile security solution?]

The problems associated with the mobile devices at West Point and the Corps center are similar to those facing all organizations grappling with the Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) trend.

Security risks posed by personal devices is so great that the Department of Defense doesn't allow its employees to use them at work. "Personal devices that people may bring to work will not be employed in the use of official DOD work," US Department of Defense spokesperson, Air Force Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, told CSO in an interview.

Ã'Â "There's just too many security issues," he added.

Shawn McCarthy, research director for IDC Government Insights, saidÃ'Â sometimes organizations can misunderstand what BYOD means. "BYOD can't be the Wild West where everybody can bring every device," he told CSO. "Certain rules have to be set and the act of setting those rules can exclude some devices."

For example, an application necessary for employees to do their jobs may run on some devices and not others. Those other devices would be excluded from the list of BYOD units because they can't run a critical app.

However, a lot of corporations and government agencies are in the same shoes as the Army CIO when it comes to BYOD. "They're just realizing that this is happening and are trying to find a way to control the chaos of it," McCarthy explained.

"DOD has the advantage of being able to give orders and be much more strict about which devices are allowed," he added.

However, the blurring line between work and home is posing problems for all organizations because employees find it difficult to make distinctions between what's theirs and what's the boss's.

"It's an employee's phone but it'sÃ'Â connecting to a corporate network," said Beth Jones, a senior threat researcher with SophosLabs.

"Employees need to understand that if they want to use their phone for work, they're going to have to compromise on the freedom of use," she asserted.

Read more about wireless/mobile security in CSOonline's Wireless/Mobile Security section.

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