The Coast Guard has become the first military service to adopt Apple and Android-based smartphones for its workforce.
The new policy, approved last week, will begin phasing out the service’s current inventory of Windows Mobile 6.x phones in favor of iPhones and various models running the Google-developed Android platform.
The Coast Guard will not purchase the devices all at once, but will issue the iPhone and Android handsets as employees’ Windows phones are due for replacement, said Capt. David Dermanelian, the Coast Guard’s chief information security officer.
The policy is designed not to permit any growth in the number of mobile devices in the Coast Guard’s inventory because officials fear they would be overwhelmed with demand from users once it authorized the new platforms.
“The functionality that the Coast Guard is replacing really is the same,” Dermanelian said in an interview with Federal News Radio. “But because we have a mobile workforce, what this allows us to do is allow end users now to access personal social media sites or other things like banking sites, provided the user has an unlimited service plan that supports that. That’s an additional bonus.”
The limited use of the devices for personal business that would not otherwise be authorized on a government-owned piece of technology is possible because the handsets will run software, developed by Good Technology, which creates a secure, encrypted sandbox capable of walling-off government data from other areas of the phone.
The sandbox will be used for official email and other office productivity tools, Dermanelian said. But because the devices will not directly access the Coast Guard’s dot-mil network, they will not require the use of a Common Access Card for authentication.
“For the initial recapitalization, we don’t have CAC card readers attached to these devices, but that’s exactly where we want to go,” he said. “The vision is to actually make these into more capable devices, where we have mobile applications that are built for these platforms. They would still operate within the Good Mobile Messaging client environment, and that’s where the Coast Guard is developing initial capabilities to see what we can deliver to the end user. That increases the security risk as it begins to encroach on our internal infrastructure. But as we’ve deployed it, we have less security concern because the user does not touch the inside of our infrastructure.”
The Defense department is in the process of testing Android and iOS devices with CAC card capabilities so that the devices can be used securely on DoD networks. A pilot project for iPhones and iPads, led by the Defense Information Systems Agency, is currently underway. DISA hopes to begin a similar pilot for Android phones and tablets soon.
For now, the service’s policy only allows for government-owned iPhones and Android devices. The Coast Guard decided against letting employees use their personal devices provisioned with the sandbox software so they could access their government email accounts.
“Part of the reason for that is the complexity of that line that quickly gets blurred on who’s paying for what portions of your IT access,” Dermanelian said. “It’s not clear, even if you have an unlimited plan, who pays for what portion of that.”
The only authorized devices right now will be phones. But Dermanelian said iOS and Android tablets are in the pipeline, as are Coast Guard-specific apps.
“We’re in our infancy on this. There’s a lot of potential,” he said. “We expect to have some enterprise capabilities within the coming year that would help us in a response scenario. When you think about the Deepwater Horizon response scenario, there are applications which would have been nice to have on the device, for example, GIS systems for information mapping purposes and for mapping where Coast Guard units and people are in a very distributed environment. That is one example of many where I can see the Coast Guard leveraging this platform.”