The balancing act – security and flexibility

Winning the prize for longest title at the Technology in Government summits was “Collaboration, Control and Cyber security: How do you continue to provide mobile data access and collaboration in the age of BYOD while preventing data leakage and retaining control of data?” The roundtable session, hosted by Al Percival from Diligent, featured a number of senior managers from various government departments. On condition we didn’t reveal any names, we sat in on the discussion that looked at the balance between old and new technologies as well as the need for greater flexibility while maintaining security.

Percival opened the discussion by raising the complexity facing modern government departments and businesses.

There is a significant balancing act that needs to be achieved between the increased need for mobile information access, better collaboration within, between and outside government agencies, the desire for personnel to operate independently, proper controls around information and data sharing, and countering cyber threats and risks in an ever-changing world where the threat surface is evolving.

BYOD has been, to a great degree, a driver that has brought many of these issues to the fore. And it was clear that different agencies are at vastly different maturity levels when it comes to BYOD. Some departments have seen staff bring their own devices to work and have email and calendar access while others are using MDM solutions such as Airwatch and Good Technology to provide sandboxed access to core systems.

In some cases, personal mobile devices can be used in the office but they are connected to a separate wireless network that is isolated from the core business LAN.

Data leakage, however, remains a concern with instances of staff using personal email accounts to send information when internal systems make that difficult.

One of the parties at the table noted the issues around BYOD aren’t significantly different to the challenges departments face with notebooks and other devices issued by the central IT function. However, the scale and rapid adoption has exacerbated the challenges.

An external consultant added to the discussion that there were significant cultural and human challenges around this. While one of the government staffers said it was unlikely any government department could exceed or even match the level of security offered by large cloud service providers such as Amazon and Microsoft, many discussions regarding the use of cloud service providers became embroiled in discussions regarding data sovereignty, the application of the laws of other countries – the PATRIOT Act was given particular attention although, as Percival noted, may other countries have similar laws in place – changed the discussion from risk-based to perception-based.

Another significant challenge was the difficulty in moving away from legacy systems. Many government systems have been in place for many years. Consequently, many processes and people had become wedded to particular applications. Coupled with the changing nature of government departments as political portfolios are split, merged and reorganised and the result is complex systems that are difficult to modernise or use in the ways new applications allow.

It was noted systems such as Dropbox and Evernote allow exactly the sort of information sharing staff crave but accessing those systems or internally operated equivalents remains out of reach in many cases because of policies limiting the use of cloud services.

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