Someday soldiers may bring their own mobile devices to work

Army explores new avenues to automated tools, ponders life beyond the Blackberry

For too long, the Army has been obligated to use locked-down mobile devices restricted by rigid security requirements that render them nearly useless. Now, the service is seeking ways to open the door to a range of mobile devices and automated tools that better serve the soldier, according to a top Army official.

Maj. Gen. Steve Smith, director of the cyber directorate at Army CIO, outlined some of the service’s plans for moving forward with new technologies – and new standards that connect users to the tools and applications they’re already accustomed to outside Defense Department security confines.

“One of the coolest things the Army wants to do is go to mobile platforms. We’re doing it at the tip of the spear so the soldiers can have a device strapped to their arms and get whatever it is they need,” Smith said March 19 at the AFCEA Belvoir Industry Days conference at the National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. "It works really well, even in austere environments. It’s great until they come home – then what do we tell them? ‘Can’t use that on Fort Bragg.’”

For example, Army users based in the continental United States officially can use only Blackberry devices that have been cleared for the Army’s unique security requirements that have “sucked the life out of” high-tech devices that deliver the power of a laptop to a soldier's palm, Smith said.

“We want something else. We have to be able to bring mobile devices to the Army, but we’ve got to be able to do it reasonably securely. But we have to get out of the [security technical implementation guide] business,” he said. “We want to get to a point where you can bring your own device. Maybe we’ll even get out of the government-furnished equipment business altogether.”

Smith noted the Army CIO office is partnering with the Army Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems, Defense Information Systems Agency and National Security Agency to pursue the goal of getting beyond standard-issue Blackberry.

He also said work is ongoing to update certification and accreditation procedures behind technology and capabilities, including revamping the DOD Information Assurance Certification and Accreditation Process (DIACAP) designed for information-system risk management.

“Our current DIACAP process is still stuck in about the 18th or 19th century. It’s a process that nobody believes in, but it’s required. We’re looking at what we need to do ensure that anything that’s connected to the Army is going to meet the minimum security [requirements],” Smith said. "We’re technologists. Boots-on-the-ground shouldn’t be the way we do it."

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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