Secure, collaborative endpoint computing — who doesn’t want that?

This is the third article in our series, The Power of Technology.

A big piece of the user experience happens at the endpoint, on the device. But it’s also where that balance between ease of use and security gets sorely tested.

“That experience really has to enable the things that the user needs to do with the device but still has to provide for the security that agencies need to protect both national security and the…

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This is the third article in our series, The Power of Technology.

A big piece of the user experience happens at the endpoint, on the device. But it’s also where that balance between ease of use and security gets sorely tested.

“That experience really has to enable the things that the user needs to do with the device but still has to provide for the security that agencies need to protect both national security and the privacy of citizen information,” said Tony Celeste, executive director and general manager for Ingram Micro Public Sector.

Celeste joined Federal News Network to talk about the dynamic changes happening in endpoint computing with Dylan Evers, senior director for the Devices Federal Solutions Group at Microsoft Federal, for the The Power of Technology series.

Endpoint Challenges for Agencies

We’re dealing with these hybrid work environments, and that of course, from a policy perspective, has changed many of the workflows that are involved in government.

It’s an especially relevant focus now, Evers said, “because of how the dynamic since COVID-19 has really impacted the way the government is working and collaborating. And I think there’s an increased focus on security at the endpoint to strengthen their zero trust posture.”

Three critical factors are at play: the aforementioned user experience and security, but also collaboration. Evers and Celeste shared how these three overlapping factors are affecting endpoint computing within government, some specific ways Microsoft technology is evolving to address them and where they expect end-user computing is going next (hint: think augmented reality).

Full speed to the edge

Computing at the edge sped up during the COVID-19 pandemic, both Evers and Celeste said. That in turn created policy, management and technology challenges.

Suddenly, agencies needed to make changes in how their employees could interact with agency compute resources. When droves of employees began to work from home, “they had to go into their data centers and then back out of their data centers to get to their cloud solutions,” Celeste said. “So that workflow changed, and therefore the network bandwidth demands were different, and how [agencies] secured perimeters became different.”

Before users were inside a secure perimeter, going out. Now, users are coming in from outside and inside going out, he said. This now fully hybrid environment requires security across the spectrum: on premises, in the cloud and at the edge.

“We’re dealing with these hybrid work environments, and that of course, from a policy perspective, has changed many of the workflows that are involved in government,” Celeste said. “Not only has it affected edge devices and cybersecurity, but it’s also affected the network and the need for more bandwidth.”

Environments that Support Collaboration

There’s going to be a world here soon for the government where they’ll be able to deploy drone technology to do near-real-time mapping of disaster scenarios and then bring that map data into a holographic image capable of being manipulated at a frontline tactical operations center — to be able to deploy assets where they need to be deployed in a matter of minutes versus a matter of days.

Tackling security needs at the firmware level

To address the security challenges, Evers said Microsoft has continuously invested in the firmware of the Surface platform as well as making authentication capabilities what he called more elegant.

For starters, because Microsoft develops its own code base in the United States, unlike some other original equipment manufacturers, it can “create firmware-level management tools for devices that allow for component-level management — to do really cool, highly secure component management on our product,” he said.

The Surface Enterprise Management Mode firmware tool has incredibly practical applications, Evers said. He shared an example from early during the pandemic about an agency that had disabled cameras, microphones and wireless on its users’ devices for work in its highly classified environment.

“For other OEM products, they were required to go out and source third-party peripheral items. Where they had physically snipped wires on their cameras, they needed to go get a USB-based camera to enable that worker for telework,” he said. “On the Surface product, they were able to toggle those components back on in a forensically sound way. We were able to carry forward all of that now into this new environment.”

Additionally, the federal devices team has focused on improving network authentication through click functionality and chip-to-cloud integration that works with legacy federal authentication mechanisms like smartcards and keys, he said.

Keeping pace with expanded collaboration desires

Another facet of the evolution of endpoint computing that accelerated during the pandemic was the use of collaboration tools. The government has always been interested in collaborating, Celeste pointed out, but noted that aspects of security often limited how far collaboration capabilities extended.

“The government got hooked on collaboration during the pandemic,” Evers said. “And I think the speed with which they were able to adopt that collaborative technology — well beyond the bounds of what policy originally allowed them to do — just changed the way that they look at, one, their ability to use it and how it increases. productivity, but two, their ability to adopt it.”

Both Evers and Celeste said they expect the use of collaborative technologies at the edge to continue to grow within government.

“Today, we all carry around some type of mobile device with us,” Celeste said. “But we may have multiple — between our watches, or our fitness bands, things that we’re now putting in our ears, glasses we may be wearing in the future that present certain information to us. There’s a whole host of things.”

As these technologies evolve and become more common in work environments, ensuring good user experience and sound security will be paramount, he added, otherwise users will find workarounds.

“It’s into the metaverse. It’s augmented and virtual reality,” Evers said, and noted that Microsoft expects the government will be an early adopter. Why? Because AR/VR functionality is going to change the way people can communicate, not just from a collaboration perspective but from an increased capabilities perspective, he said.

Think about the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for instance, Evers said: “There’s going to be a world here soon for the government where they’ll be able to deploy drone technology to do near-real-time mapping of disaster scenarios and then bring That map data into a holographic image able to be manipulated at a frontline tactical operations center — to be able to deploy assets where they need to be deployed in a matter of minutes versus a matter of days. It’s this new mixed reality world that Windows will enable, and hardware platforms like HoloLens will enable. It’s the future of end-user computing.”

To read more articles in The Power of Technology series, click here.

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