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March 17, 2016

Many U.S. Counties Are Failing to Use Mobile Device Management Software

You would think that in today’s insecure mobile landscape, mobile device management (MDM)—or the practice of remotely monitoring, managing and protecting employee-owned mobile devices—would be nearly ubiquitous at the local government level.

A shocking new study, however, confirms otherwise.

According to a survey of 50 leading U.S. counties, conducted by the International Association of Information Technology Asset Managers, Inc. (IAITAM), most of the government entities polled provide mobile devices for their employees—yet less than half manage them with MDM software. Furthermore, only about one-quarter of these organizations verified that they require MDM software to be installed across all countywide departments.

So, why is this widespread lack of centralized oversight a pressing issue?

First and foremost, it means that many government agencies are neglecting to ensure that the mobile devices they issue are secure.

As we mentioned in a recent article, smartphones now account for about 60 percent of all malware on mobile networks. And government employees—like employees in any other industry—often use their work devices for personal reasons like surfing the Web, browsing social media and playing games, which are activities that routinely lead to malware infections.

It doesn’t take much to contract mobile malware, either. Devices can easily become infected by clicking on a harmful link or downloading a malignant file. And mobile malware doesn’t have to cascade very far across a mobile network to cause a great deal of harm. Consider ransomware, for instance, which was the top mobile threat of 2015. That’s right: Ransomware is no longer just infecting laptops and computers; just as easily as it can infect a computer and hold data hostage, it can do the same on a smartphone or tablet.

Security questions aside, local governments must also consider the implications that can arise due to a lack of basic visibility into employee-owned devices. Consider, for instance, the high-profile case involving the 2015 San Bernardino terror attack in which the suspect was originally issued an Apple iPhone by the San Bernardino government, whom he worked for.

As of right now, the Justice Department is feuding with Apple about unlocking the phone to conduct its investigation. Apple, on the other hand, is maintaining that agreeing to do so would set a precedent for all future related cases, and is refusing to cooperate.

Now, an international debate is swirling about whether the government has the right to look into smartphones without permission. At the heart of the debate is the fact that the San Bernardino county government had already purchased the MDM software necessary for obtaining the information that the Justice Department is after, which is now permanently locked on the device; it just never installed it on the phone.

If the software had been installed and applied properly, the phone could have been legally unlocked. Now, all we can do is sit back and watch the legal battle unfold.

As a side note, local taxpayers are free to wonder why the San Bernardino county government is paying $4 per month per phone for MDM software that is not being used. 

“If the technology, known as mobile device management, had been installed, San Bernardino officials would have been able to remotely unlock the iPhone for the FBI without the theatrics of a court battle that is now pitting digital privacy rights against national security concerns,” CBS reports.

The lesson here is that MDM technology is absolutely essential—not just for corporate IT departments, but also for governments. To learn more about how Apex Technology Services of New York City can outfit your county with reliable—and affordable—MDM software, click here

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