In an increasing era of mobile technology and BYOD, federal workers are often juggling work, personal and “classified” lives throughout their days. This can mean several devices with differing degrees of security coming into the government landscape.
While single devices are being configured to address mobile data needs, the cog in that wheel is the individual using the technology, experts say.
Agencies are teaching workers to interface with their devices at varying levels of security and to provide the safest link possible among them.
“If you ask ten cyber-security experts today how our systems are vulnerable, I think their answer would be that the security vulnerability is the human brain, it’s people,” said George Washington University Prof. Costis Toregas, associate director of the Cyber Security Policy and Research Institute.
Toregas and other experts say the human failings are not malicious, they are just human.
Every time a device asks for a password and a human responds, “I as a human being, a user of computers and websites, become the biggest liability on Earth.”
But some devices are trying to cut down on that vulnerability. General Dynamics C-4 Systems for example, has just received authorization to begin selling a “three-in-one” laptop that provides separate computing spaces for “secret” work, regular agency work, and personal work.
The company said the “TACLANE-MultiBook” has now been certified by the National Security Agency (NSA) to secure network communications at the “secret” level and below. According to a company statement, military and government personnel may use the TACLANE-MultiBook to work simultaneously on both unclassified and classified, cyber-secure networks. The device retails for almost $5,800. A NSA official would not confirm that the agency has authorized the device, but said they did not object to anything the company said in its press release announcing the device.
Michael Guzelian, vice president of Secure Voice and Data Products for General Dynamics C4 Systems, said the company has sold a few of the devices to the government for testing purposes.
“I like to describe it as three different computers in one,” he said.
The machine is built on a Dell Latitude e6420 computer, the same as can be purchased commercially. The difference, he said, is that it has a personal computer “were you can go anywhere on the Internet, YouTube, Facebook, wherever. The second could be a sensitive but unclassified computer shielded from the Internet. And the third is a classified ‘secret’ machine.”
A user could toggle among the three areas without worrying that data would cross over from one to the other, he said.
Prof. Toregas noted that garden-variety government information already is encrypted on computers and suggested that the three-in-one computers would build on that technology.
“If you go on your Facebook account (in the unsecure side), it has no way of going into the ‘secret’ part of the computer they just handed you a few minutes ago. If there’s a negative, it may be that it gives you a false sense of security. It’s very important not to lose the importance of the human factor.”
Dan Yost, chief technology officer of MyLaptopGPS, a laptop security firm, said private business is already using some version of a multi-level computer. He said it’s always a good idea to cut down on the number of devices employees are carrying, though he notes that one device can get stolen as easily as two or three.
“On the federal side, it’s a challenge to allow data to be used to make the agency operate, but these things are going to be stolen, they always do,” he said. “You are trusting the employee to know that you do not store classified information on the other part of the device.”
Yost has personal experience with two “sides” of a computer. He uses a Mac but has some program for clients that only run on the Windows operating system. “So, I virtualized it,” he said. “I created a parallel that allows them both to boot at the same time. I have a Microsoft window on my Mac.”
“I could see someone using that model … of technology on the security side,” he said.