Mindef tests remote disabling of gadgets

The mobile device management software has been installed in tablets and laptops that are used by soldiers to access online lessons in military institutes like the Basic Military Training Centre and Safti Military Institute.
The mobile device management software has been installed in tablets and laptops that are used by soldiers to access online lessons in military institutes like the Basic Military Training Centre and Safti Military Institute.PHOTO: DSTA

Mobile device management software can disable cameras and wipe out data in tablets

The Defence Ministry (Mindef) is widening its use of software that can remotely disable cameras in its mobile devices and wipe out their data.

Mobile device management (MDM) technology is being tested for camera-equipped tablets that are used by civilian contractors to repair or manage more than 6,000 Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Mindef buildings and facilities across the island.

Such gadgets are increasingly being used to perform non-core functions in the military.

If someone is found to be taking an unauthorised photo of a classified document or area with the tablet, the software can not only lock the device remotely, but also detect its location, delete its contents and disable its camera, microphone and Wi-Fi connection.

The Straits Times understands that Mindef is looking to hook up up to 520 mobile devices with the mobile device management software.

Brigadier-General Paul Chew, director of the Military Security Department, said Mindef is considering various options, including using MDM-configured mobile devices, to "strengthen governance and enhance efficiency of facilities management operations".

Currently, MDM applications have been installed in tablets and laptops used by soldiers to access online lessons in military institutes such as the Basic Military Training Centre and Safti Military Institute.

The United States Defence Information Systems Agency has used MDM since 2013 to manage more than 97,400 users with BlackBerry, iOS and Android handsets or tablets. They include those from the army, air force and other defence agencies.

The latest move to use MDM software for facilities management-related devices will allow the SAF to ease restrictions on using camera- equipped mobile devices in camp but, at the same time, clamp down on the unauthorised use of such devices in highly sensitive areas.

Smartphones are increasing in popularity in Singapore, making up more than 70 per cent of the some 7.3 million mobiles in Singapore.

Since 2012, camera-equipped devices have been allowed in zones marked green, such as cookhouses, bunks and medical centres.

Zones marked red - such as unit operations rooms and offices with sensitive information - are no-camera-phone zones and servicemen must deposit their phones in lockers before entering them.

The DSO National Laboratories, Singapore's largest defence research body, is among several organisations here that also use MDM software to manage mobile devices.

Mr Clement Teo, senior analyst at technology and market research company Forrester, said using technologies such as MDM is a smart and efficient way to secure and protect Mindef assets.

"You are enabling people to be as productive as they can be in the camp to get their jobs done without forcing them to change the device they use."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2015, with the headline 'Mindef tests remote disabling of gadgets'. Print Edition | Subscribe