Tech Roundup

VA looks to consolidate cellphone bills, a very loud cyberattack and fed websites gain fans.

Cellular Revolution

The Veterans Affairs Department is looking to consolidate its cellphone billing into a national contract that covers voice and data airtime, as well as hardware such as smartphones and tablet computers.

The national mobile device and services contract would include the department’s 300,000 employees in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to a request for information that VA issued to industry in July. The department currently uses multiple contracts to acquire mobile hardware and airtime.

To cut down on both voice and data airtime costs, VA plans to use the national contract to pool minutes and wants unlimited nighttime calls, unlimited text message service and unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling within a specific carrier’s network.

Jin Wang, president of iSYS LLC, a McLean, Va.-based firm the General Services Administration hired to help federal agencies manage mobile communications, says the trend in government is to consolidate cellphone contracts, although the VA plan to acquire phones and tablets in the deal is an unusual approach. 

In June, VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker said he would a back a departmentwide policy allowing employees to bring their own devices to the job, but acknowledged he had not worked out the financial details of such a plan.

Wang says a BYOD plan probably would require some kind of employee reimbursement for hardware costs and airtime, a complex accounting process. The national mobile plan ultimately could save VA hassles and money, Wang says, adding “the carriers may just throw in the devices for free,” considering the large scale of the contract.

-Bob Brewin

Cybersecurity Rocks

In July, a world-renowned cybersecurity researcher received emails from someone claiming to be an Iranian scientist and reporting what has to be one of the most surreal cyberattacks in recent months—a computer virus that allegedly blared music while stopping equipment at the Natanz nuclear plant. 

There was “music playing randomly on several of the workstations . . . I believe it was playing ‘Thunderstruck’ by AC/DC,” reads one email from the Iranian scientist that Mikko H. Hypponen, chief research officer at antivirus firm F-Secure, posted to his blog.

The scientist began the note by stating, “I am writing you to inform you that our nuclear program has once again been compromised and attacked by a new worm with exploits which have shut down our automation network at Natanz and another facility, Fordo, near Qom”—a reference to the Stuxnet virus that crippled the Natanz plant in late 2009.

Hypponen confirmed that the purported researcher was sending and receiving emails from within the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

-Aliya Sternstein

Happy Campers

Customer satisfaction with federal websites hit a new high in the second quarter of 2012, but remains slightly below the average for all online and offline businesses measured by the consultancy ForeSee, the company reports. 

Average satisfaction with federal websites on the American Customer Satisfaction Index rose from its previous high of 75.5 out of 100 in the second quarter of 2011 to 75.6 at the same time in 2012. The average score has slowly risen from about 70 to about 75 since 2003.

-Joseph Marks

Navy Missed the Boat

Military watchers are raising concerns that the Iranian Navy has developed a fleet of small, heavily armed patrol boats that could swarm and possibly sink large U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. Navy could have its own swarms today if it had not dismissed the idea for a small, light ship that the late Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski proposed in 2001, which he dubbed the “Streetfighter.” 

Cebrowski argued then that buying a bunch of inexpensive ships—rather than a few expensive ones—would leave the Navy with a substantial force even if an enemy sunk many of them, a notion critics derided as the “throwaway ship” concept.

The Streetfighter, Cebrowski said, could take on missions in waters close to shore that carriers, cruisers and destroyers could not handle due to their size and draft—the situation it faces today.

-Bob Brewin

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