Ban on Smartphones in Secure Federal Facilities

March 8, 2019 | Kate Brew

The Federal ban on smartphones for some employees in the workspace makes a lot of sense in post-Snowden days. The phone has a camera, microphone, Bluetooth and other capabilities that can be abused, with or without the employee even intending harm.

AT&T ThreatTraq did a six-minute video I really enjoyed. ThreatTraq is a production of the AT&T Chief Security Office, and a great resource I've discovered since the acquisition of AlienVault by AT&T. The video included Karen Simon, Director Technology Security, AT&T, Manny Ortiz, Director Technology Security, AT&T and Matt Keyser, Principle Technology Security, AT&T. They referenced a great article in Security Magazine on this topic recently. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Unbridled smartphone capabilities are a righteous threat in highly secure facilities. Cameras can be used to steal classified documents. Microphones can be used to spy. Bluetooth is fraught with valid security issues that could be abused to exfiltrate data and spy.
  • The ban cost about 52 minutes per day of lost productivity. Karen calls it the “backlash on productivity”. Manny found the 52 minute number to be incredible, but then broke it down to employees having to walk out to their car or to a locker to check on their phones multiple times per day – yes it does add up. But is that really true? Would employees have been equally or more unproductive due to using the smartphone for personal reasons on the job?
  • There’s a definite hit on employee morale. I know a few people who wouldn’t take a job that required surrendering their smartphone to go to work. From the article:

“The numbers don’t lie: four out of ten millennials refuse to work for an organization that doesn’t allow personal devices in the workplace.”

  • Personal effectiveness can be greatly reduced. Think of all the times getting a quick text to a colleague during a long meeting can save quite a bit of time and reduce wasted work.
  • Work laptops / desktops have similar functionality as smartphones – why does it make sense to ban a smaller version of a laptop? Laptops can’t be taken from employees because they would be unable to do much work without them!
  • As Karen suggested, while security does have an impact – it’s never entirely benign - there needs to be a balance between security and productivity. Perhaps technology to disable the recording and camera functions of smartphones while at work?

Definitely check out the video and subscribe to ThreatTraq!

Kate Brew

About the Author: Kate Brew

Kate has over 15 years experience in product management and marketing, primarily in information security.

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