Jeff Voas Of NIST Mobility Interview: “Hands Of The Good Guys, It’s Good, Hands Of The Bad Guys, It’s Bad”

Jeff Voas, NIST

WashingtonExec had the opportunity to interview Jeff Voas, Computer Scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). With a strong research technology background, Voas brings a different prospective regarding the implementation of mobility in the federal government.

Voas gave WashingtonExec the most critical aspect of a smartphone that all private contractors should understand BEFORE trying to sell these devices in the federal market space as well as where he sees mobility on the larger scale of technological innovation.

Voas also brought up where he sees mobility headed…he believes that soon these devices will have the capability to detect chemical agents in the air.

WashingtonExec:  Please give us a little about your background, what led you to NIST and your involvement with mobility.

Jeff Voas: First I started a company named Cigital, which still exists today. I then worked at SAIC for about five years and decided I wanted to spend a little bit of time in the federal government where I could actually work in standards as opposed to just billing customers by the hour.  It was kind of like being more in a research lab than being in a commercial consulting business.

“Your smart phone really is in a way a sensor…For instance, smartphones might one day be able to sense the air. What is the temperature?  What is the humidity?  They are going to look for biological agents or chemical agents.  That sounds like science fiction but I think this will come in the next ten years.”

WashingtonExec: What do you think government contractors should be looking for in the coming years regarding mobility?

Jeff Voas: A smart phone is a huge sensor of what the user is or is not doing and how much of that information do you actually want collected. If contractors want to start selling or marketing in the federal space they have to understand that there is an awful lot of security and privacy concerns based upon smart phones because at the end of the day, yes they are nice little functional things that allow you to browse the web when you are sitting on the Metro, however they also sense an awful lot about what you are doing.  The question is, where does that information go?

WashingtonExec:  How does mobility compare in scale to other technological innovation?

Jeff Voas: Today, once your handheld becomes your computer these mobile apps actually become their own system administrators. That person can commandeer and completely take over your phone and collect any data they want.  They can collect any keystroke, anything your type into it, anything you say into the microphone, they can turn the camera on and off, they can collect any GPS information about you.  Your smart phone really is in a way a sensor. That’s only going to get worse because over time these smart phones are going to have more and more sensing capabilities. For instance, smartphones might one day be able to sense the air. What is the temperature?  What is the humidity?  They are going to look for biological agents or chemical agents.  That sounds like science fiction but I think this will come in the next ten years.  If your smart phone senses some really bad chemical agent in the air it has the ability to communicate to other people’s cell phones that are geographically in the same area where you are to tell all of those people. I’m not saying it’s all negative but you just have to understand the tradeoffs.  There are a lot of tradeoffs in these technologies.  They can be put to use for very good. They can be put to use for very bad.

WashingtonExec:  That is always the issue with new technology though; drawbacks versus innovation.

Jeff Voas: Yes, exactly.  In the hands of the good guys it is good.  In the hands of the bad guys it is bad.  In terms of mobility the federal government is going to do it – that is obvious. Reliability is a big risk and how do you lock these devices down in such a way that you are taking a minimal risk for the absolute maximum benefit.

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