Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages – Security Challenges

In this Washington Post article, new staffers describe the state of the IT infrastructure at the White House.


Two years after launching the most technologically savvy presidential campaign in history, Obama officials ran smack into the constraints of the federal bureaucracy yesterday, encountering a jumble of disconnected phone lines, old computer software, and security regulations forbidding outside e-mail accounts.

What does that mean in 21st-century terms? No Facebook to communicate with supporters. No outside e-mail log-ins. No instant messaging. Hard adjustments for a staff that helped sweep Obama to power through, among other things, relentless online social networking.


One member of the White House new-media team came to work on Tuesday, right after the swearing-in ceremony, only to discover that it was impossible to know which programs could be updated, or even which computers could be used for which purposes. The team members, accustomed to working on Macintoshes, found computers outfitted with six-year-old versions of Microsoft software. Laptops were scarce, assigned to only a few people in the West Wing. The team was left struggling to put closed captions on online videos.


Another White House official whose transition cellphone was disconnected left a message temporarily referring callers to his wife’s phone.

Several people tried to route their e-mails through personal accounts.


And officials in the press office were prepared: In addition to having their own cellphones, they set up Gmail accounts, with approval from the White House counsel, so they could send information in more than one way.

This should be interesting for any security/process-oriented folks in the White House administration. Having hundreds of rampart Gmail/IM accounts active will definitely pose a challenge for the system. Since all official administration communication needs to be logged for legal purposes, I am curious as to how they will catch up with all the emails that will be sent through Gmail in the upcoming months. They will have a hard time quitting using their Gmail accounts once the official White House accounts are established. Also, what kind of information will be sent via their Gmail accounts? I definitely hope that they will not be able to use instant messaging, unless all that communication will be logged.

It is a brave new world that is out there, it has never been more challenging for security-minded folks.


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