Telework Challenges in a Mobile Device World Facing a Pandemic

Simon HartleyThe coronavirus pandemic is affecting all walks of life. Hospitals and medical professionals are on high alert. Schools are closing. Professional sports teams are playing in empty stadiums and, in some cases, not at all. Companies and governments are reviewing how to reduce health risks while maintaining productivity. An obvious response is to expand their telework programs for employees.

Telework or remote worker programs have their challenges, and the concern is genuine for the federal government. There is the need to re-work policies, stretch budgets, deal with security concerns, and a big part of the challenge is the changing workforce as smartphones – rather than PCs and landlines of yesteryear – are the tools of choice.

Commercial off the Shelf (COTS) smartphones routinely command a thousand-dollar price tag.  Mixing personal and work activities on COTS devices can lead to location tracking and data exhaust issues. It is well-documented that COTS smartphones capture data, and the data is sold to third-party vendors.

Virtualization may seem to be a panacea but requires excellent connectivity, specialized back-ends, and limits off-line work. For years, defense contractors have focused on the narrow use case of classified voice and data to design a Government off the Shelf (GOTS) smartphone.

The GOTS devices tend to share a dismal group of characteristics – poor user experience, high price, and time-consuming maintenance.  The user experience is often overlooked with GOTS devices, and many users end up storing their device in a desk drawer. When forced to use a GOTS device, the typical user carries two or three devices at a time, which presents exceptionally high-security risks.

A new option for federal smartphone users is Google’s Pixel 3a device, which offers near-flagship levels of user experience at a cost under $400. Pixel 3a also supports FirstNet, the public safety broadband network.

CIS Mobile’s altOS on Pixel allows personal and work secure containers to be separate but conveniently accessible to the user. AltOS eliminates tracking and data exhaust. Personal and work apps, data, settings, and the ability to audit a device are managed by central policy.

Serious device protections and controls, not offered on consumer devices, are vital for government usage scenarios. The altOS platform is designed to provide the best of convenient modern user experience with the security governments require.