recommended reading

OMB Gives Agencies First-Ever Security Guidelines to Protect Smartphones and Tablets

Stuart Miles/

The Office of Management and Budget on Thursday sent agencies instructions for securing government-owned commercial smartphones and tablets in an effort to bring consistency to what had been an ad-hoc patchwork of guidelines. The 104-page compilation of controls -- all are not applicable for every mission -- was accompanied by a choose-your-own-adventure style manual for picking the most appropriate mobile device setup.

Absent from the documents is a list of approved devices (nor are there additional appropriations to help information technology managers incorporate all the specifications recommended, noted some telecommunications consultants). Also, the instructions concentrate more on safeguarding the device, rather than the data.

The instructions are part of a digital government strategy the White House laid out one year ago that called on agencies to “adopt a coordinated approach to ensure privacy and security in a digital age.” 

The departments of Homeland Security and Defense, along with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, developed Thursday’s baseline protocols as first steps only. Later guidance, for example, might focus on continuous monitoring of controls, cryptography, securing the data instead of the device, and ensuring data is only shared with authorized users. 

The protections draw from controls listed in a new edition of the government's cybersecurity compendium -- officially called "SP (Special Publication) 800-53, which was issued in April. Some of the general procedures covered include security awareness and training as well as "penetration testing," or hiring ethical hackers to expose vulnerabilities by trying to break into phones. 

In addition to the technical security measures, IT managers and vendors will find a "decision framework" flowchart diagram that "describes a four-stage process to define a specific business case, examine risks and tradeoffs, and reach a decision on mobile applications, devices and infrastructure elements."

Example questions include: "Is the user prevented from participating in existing workflows with individuals from relevant partner organizations who already have mobile functionality?"

The Pentagon in February released its own plan to execute a military-specific strategy for commercial mobile devices. "I believe the Defense Department will be looking at the same framework -- but in many cases will move toward the stronger security use case" than the "moderate impact" examples depicted in much of Thursday’s literature, said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting. 

The policies issued should help all civilian and military agencies start moving in the right direction but do not go far enough, he said.

"Up until now, there has not been a clear set of requirements for agencies to use, so agencies have been improvising and, in general, they have defaulted to relatively accessible software," that is not necessarily "acceptable" software, Suss said.

He suggested OMB or the General Services Administration create an approved-products list similar to the catalogues produced by the Pentagon “to validate the claims of manufactured products."

Because the guidelines do not endorse existing mobile brands, models or operating systems, “it leaves the agency with taking this rather complex framework and applying it to a real-world construct,” Suss said. "It's going to create a lot of work for the agencies,” he added. “This comes out with the blessing of OMB, but it doesn't come with funding from OMB, so what we have is another unfunded mandate."

(Image via Stuart Miles/

Threatwatch Alert

Social Media Takeover

Qatar News Agency Says Hackers Published Fake Stories

See threatwatch report


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.