22 November 2012, 20:55

Mobile devices deemed insecure, RoMOS aims to fix this

Mobile devices deemed insecure, RoMOS aims to fix this
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Are you a public official? Do own and iOS or Android device? Well, you might be a major security risk! At least that's what State Duma deputy Ilya Kostunov thinks.

Are you a public official? Do own and iOS or Android device? Well, you might be a major security risk! At least that's what State Duma deputy Ilya Kostunov thinks. If you recall, recently bloggers found out that Moscow Region Duma Deputies were basically giving themselves iPads as New Year's presents - all paid for from the budget of the Russian Federation, of course. Their argument was simple - first of all, it's the New Year, time for presents! Well, yes, it's customary for public officials to receive presents from the state - although maybe not as cool as iPads. So here's the second argument - Apple tablet computers are quite useful in the legislative process, apparently. Namely, digital document exchange. Frankly, I always thought that working with documents on tablets is a nightmare - I mean, it's just not the same as with a physical keyboard - but I guess it can be useful if one needs to read a lot of documents and, perhaps, make only a few changes - this is definitely better than to pass around heaps of printed documents to hundreds of deputies.

Well, I can't say that using touch-screen devices for governmental purposes is a novel idea. I mean, Apple even has a special store for the Government. Although, being an American company, this is a store for the United States governmental agencies. Last year there have been some major changes in the way US officials use gadgets - according to numerous sources, such as The Washington Post and Apple Insider, US governmental agencies were leaning towards using iPads instead of traditional laptop computers and iPhones instead of Blackberries - previously, a staple phone for "serious business". This is an ongoing trend - the latest agency to ditch Blackberry and jump of the Apple bandwagon was the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The problem was reliability of Blackberry devices - and seeing as how NTSB officials were already using iPads for their work, choosing iPhones was a no-brainer. But again, we're talking about the American government, choosing to use and American company - I'm pretty sure that security concerns are talked over behind the scenes. But here in Russia? I guess there's only so much trust a government can have in a foreign company when it comes to data security. Another argument against these newfangled thingamajigs is that they're more expensive than traditional PCs. The bottom line that the civil servant draws is that public officials should not use "unsafe" devices to transfer sensitive governmental data. By the way, previously Kostunov came up with an initiative to force all public officials use governmental email service, in lieu of popular free alternative such as mail.ru, yandex.ru or gmail.com. There are rumors that eventually even citizens will have to use governmental email addresses - but only when it comes to G2C interactions, i.e. making legally-significant actions without having to prove their identity in person. Instead, in order to exclude foul play, it is likely one will receive a digital signature and a governmental e-mail account through a one-time visit to a governmental office.

By the way, a few months ago Russian developers came up with what was colloquially called "Russian Android" which is basically a modified version of the open-source operating system "RoMOS" (Russian Mobile Operating System). It's supposed to be launched by the end of this year. Along with it will come the hardware solution running the operating system - an as of yet unnamed tablet, which will likely be distributed among employees of the Russian Defense Ministry - these guys really need to keep their private info, you know, private, and developers acknowledge that. Two versions have been announced - both have standard Android capabilities plus GLONASS navigation minus built-in data gathering. The difference is mostly external - regular version will have you run-of-the-mill build quality, whereas the military version will be constructed with harsh field conditions in mind - it will be water-proof and shock-resistant. Another difference from basic Android tablets - thewre will be no Google play store - sorry, soldiers, no Angry Birds for you! Still, another app store is promised, but seeing as how it's geared towards serious business, probably apps will deal with things like security, mapping, communications - these sort of things. Regardless, the tablet, or at least the regular version will be shipped to retail with an MSRP - 15,000 rubles - about $500 dollars. Perhaps Kostonuv will be happy with the tablet and who knows, someday these RoMOS devices will replace the controversial iPads as deputies' gadget of choice.

 

Oh hey, remember I mentioned an amusing PSA dealing with pretty serious subject matter going viral? The video has now about 17 million views - and that's just in a little over a week. Melbourne Metro Trains commissioned the clip to remind people that underrating the trains' danger is quite a dumb way to die - but the result exceeded all expectations and became what some call the new "Gangham Style". Anyway, another advertisement is now making rounds on the internet - only it's not a song, it's not a video and it's not a public service announcements. In fact, some call it blasphemy. That's right, not only good stuff goes viral online. Anyway, it's a poster for Ukraine International Airlines and it shows Statue of Liberty, presumably the one from New York, laying in bed with Rio De Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer. What the authors were hoping for is illustrating that long-term relationships can work - thanks to the international airline, of course. The problem is that a lot of people don't really like Christ being used for commercials. Moreover, here the statue is holding a cigarette and laying in bed with a female anthropomorphic statue - this is hardly politically correct and may be construed as blasphemy - not only tasteless, but also illegal. With half of bloggers coming down on the ad and the authors for this sacrilege, the other half praised its humor, edginess and overall "European" feel, whatever that is. Well, turns out that this is not an official advertisement after all. It's only a speculative work create by a Ukranian artist Aleksandr Bozhko, creative director of an advertisement agency kaFE. Apparently he is now regretting his decision and trying to remove the posted from the internet - but, as I've mentioned yesterday, this is pretty much another instance of the Streisand effect - a situation when someone trying to make something inaccessible only results in increased attention. The ad finding its way to probably the largest website dedicated to the advertisement business, AdsoftheWorld did not help the situation. Despite all parties involved stating this is not really an advertisement, the posted is still available on adsoftheworld.com - and no mention of it being a "creative exercise". The airline company stated that "their lawyers are working on the issue" but it's not clear what that means and whether the artist or his ad agency will be sued. Well, on the bright side, the agency and the airline have received major free publicity.

Oh, by the way, even though public officials will maybe have an easier time doing their jobs, what with the free tablet computers and such, but with greater power comes greater responsibility. Citizens will be able to evaluate how well governmental agencies work - this will be purely subjective, of course, but that's the plan. Citizens will be offered to three ways to leave their feedback - through a text message, through a web form or through digital terminals installed in governmental offices. The system will incorporated into existing framework of e-government, meaning that there will be no fake grades. Each G2C interaction is assigned a number in the system - and upon receiving what they were looking for citizens will be offered to share their experience, translated into cold hard numbers. Parameters of service quality include time in queue, how fast civil servants are performing, their "politeness and expertise", comfort level of office buildings, easiness of access to information regarding services and procedures. In other words, every little aspect of G2C interactions will be scrutinized and everyone responsible for the process will have to be held accountable - janitors, architects, planners, software developers, project managers, clerks and even department and agency heads. If a citizen doesn't like something about a governmental agency - its employees, its buildings, its digital representation, they will be able to let the authorities know. While it's subjective, it's impersonal. If a citizen did not like the way they were treated at a governmental office, they'll be able to complain about poor performance of personnel - without providing any names.

The only question that remains is whether anyone will actually do something about these evaluations. By the way, I was a bit surprised to find out that the governmental body who is working on this project is the Ministry of Economic Development. The Telecommunications Ministry, the more logical choice, is part of the workgroup finishing the document; the Labor Ministry is also participating, which, I guess, makes sense. With little details of the system available, right now it's known that agency heads will be responsible for maintaining the overall grade of their body above a certain threshold. If it drops below a certain point - absolutely, or relatively to previous year's performance - then it will be grounds for initiating an internal audit, potentially leading to the public official vacating their office. Well, if all this works as promised, hopefully governmental services will finally be bearable. Although I wonder if there will be failsafe against people that don't really like anything - you know, some customers just never can be satisfied. Don't believe me? Just check out clientsfromhell.com - a nice feel-good website if your job gets you down. And on this note, I bid you good-bye.

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