At least two Interior Department offices are testing out iPads in an effort to increase productivity, and a third office is looking to acquire the coveted tablets. But iPads have proven vulnerabilities — only two weeks ago, a duo was arrested for hacking into AT&T records and exposing 120,000 iPad accounts, including top government officials.
The department is still interested. “They’re being used as replacements for laptops and blackberries,” said Drew Malcomb, the Interior Department’s chief of public affairs. “We see them as filling that need. They have a larger screen, the attachments are onboard and they have most of the capabilities of a laptop.”
The iPads are also significantly cheaper than laptops, he said, with a starting cost of $499.
Currently, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Interior Secretary’s office are testing out the devices. Last week, the Bureau of Land Management submitted a solicitation for Apple products, with iPads chief among the request.
There’s a limited number of the iPads in use by the agencies. In the secretary’s office, there’s just “a couple dozen,” mostly assigned to senior staff, said Malcomb. The USGS has about 1,000 iPads in use that employees have been testing since last summer.
But the use of iPads raises issues of whether the devices provide enough security for federal data.
“There’s always worry about security, so we take special steps to deal with that,” said Malcomb.
He said that iPads offer one thing most laptops don’t provide.
“The one benefit is is that they can be wiped clean remotely,” said Malcomb. “If one gets stolen or lost, they can be wiped clean from here. That’s unlike a laptop of a Blackberry.”
And, he added, iPad use can be monitored the same way laptop use was — so the departments will know if employees are playing Angry Birds.
Some security analysts nonetheless have concerns. “You are the mercy of Apple with regards to security and the applications one can install,” said Andrew Storms, director of security operations for nCircle, which provides security solutions to businesses and government agencies. “If you compare that to a laptop running Windows, there’s a marketplace for security tools and applications.”
Storms said iPads must be treated more like laptops to increase security.
“The biggest problem with iPads is that people don’t treat them like they are laptops,” he said. “The agencies are looking at the iPad as a different device entirely. They are hitting problems because it’s a closed system.”
He said Apple needs to take steps to address some of the security needs.
“At the end of the day, the tools are very slim and there is a lot of trust put in the user to do the right thing,” he said.