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NIST Tests Ways To Secure iPhones, iPads

The agency bought 60 Apple tablets and smartphones to figure out secure methods for federal government employees to use the popular devices.

Apple iPad 2 3G Teardown
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Apple iPad 2 3G Teardown
The organization that creates standards for the federal government's use of technology is testing iPhones and iPads to devise the best ways of securing them for government use.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST's) Office of Information Systems Management (OISM) is performing a pilot across the agency to "determine how best to proceed to provide a managed, secure configuration for NIST users of these devices," according to a contract award notification posted on FedBizOpps.gov.

NIST procured the devices--55 Apple iPad 2s with covers and power supplies, and 5 Apple iPhone 4Gs--for the pilot from Videotape Products Inc. through a $43,756.90 award, according to the notification. The organization plans to use Verizon as the service provider for the devices.

Government organizations and departments--including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the House of Representatives, and the Department of Interior--are allowing the use of smartphones such as iPhones and iPads among employees, a trend that is poised to grow. But as the use of these devices increases across the federal government, so do concerns about ensuring the devices are secure to prevent vulnerabilities or breaches.

NIST's interest in securing the devices could have ramifications across federal agencies given its role as the technology standards-setting body for the federal government. For instance, NIST--a part of the Department of Commerce--sets guidelines and standards for the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002, better known as FISMA.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which conducts research for the Department of Defense (DOD), also is seeking a way to better secure these devices by developing encryption for them. Like civilian agencies, the U.S. military is exploring the use of a variety of smartphones--including Android-based devices as well as iPhones--for personnel, including Army soldiers.

One way the DOD may eventually solve its mobile device security problem is to have the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) act as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) and manage them across the department. DISA recently put out a request for information seeking advice how to centrally manage up to 1 million devices.

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