Security presented as the foundation of new federal digital strategy

Pavel Ignatov/

A blueprint for moving government services to mobile devices concentrates on protecting data, rather than the devices.

A new guidebook for mobile-enabled government aims to squelch privacy and security concerns common to tiny devices by protecting sensitive data before it ever reaches a phone.

The 31-page White House strategy issued Wednesday for delivering agency services via apps attaches the word “secure” to almost every activity description. A graphic visualizing the flow of digital services under the plan titles its foundational layer, Security & Privacy.

At the same, the paper acknowledges the mobile model’s goals of openness and collaboration can “have the potential to make devices and data vulnerable to malicious or accidental breaches of security and privacy.” Laptops have long carried similar risks, but smaller-size smartphones and tablets increase the chances of losing data or opening agency networks to unauthorized users, the strategy states.

To address the conflict between transparency and security, the blueprint calls for partitioning sensitive information prior to transmission by, among other things, requiring strong identity verification.

This way, “data owners can focus more effort on ensuring the safe and secure delivery of data to the end customer and fewer resources on securing the device that will receive the data,” the strategy states.

The paper contemplates moving much of the government’s digital intelligence to the cloud -- or remote data centers -- to reach the point of using essentially dummy phones.

“If applications, operating systems and data reside in an appropriately secured cloud environment rather than on a device, this will limit the potential impact to an agency in the event a device is lost, stolen or compromised,” the strategy states.

The Defense and Homeland Security departments, along with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, will do much of the heavy lifting to install the security layer of the strategy. Within 12 months, the trio must craft standard security requirements for broadening the use of mobile and wireless devices in government, according to the plan.

To keep certain digital services confidential, particularly those involving citizen information, the federal Chief Information Officers Council will develop instructions for deploying privacy controls during the next six months. Within that time frame, the council also will teach agency privacy and legal specialists about the latest options for preventing the unnecessary collection of personal data, minimizing how long data is stored and notifying users of data breaches.

(Image via Pavel Ignatov/  /