By Paul McDougall
April 4, 2008
In the wake of a widely publicized security breach that left thousands
of patient records exposed, the federal government's National Institutes
of Health is forbidding all employees who use Apple's MacBook laptops
from handling sensitive data as of Friday, InformationWeek has learned.
Employees at the health agency who store medical records and other
personal information on laptops must use systems that run either
onMicrosoft (NSDQ: MSFT)'s Windows operating system or Linux, according
to an agency memo.
Those systems must be equipped with Check Point Software (NSDQ: CHKP)'s
Pointsec encryption tool as of April 4, according to an NIH mandate.
Systems running Windows Vista can also use Vista's built-in BitLocker
disk encryption tool.
NIH imposed the no-MacBooks rule because there is no Apple-compatible
version of Pointsec. To date, Check Point has only released a beta
version of Pointsec for Macs that's not yet ready for government use.
"Computers that cannot be encrypted by Pointsec at this time (e.g.,
Macs) are waived from the encryption mandate, but only with the
stipulation that they do not contain any PII or sensitive government
information," the NIH Office of Research Services said in a memo to NIH
staff. PII refers to personally identifiable information.
NIH said it's been given no estimate as to when a final version of
Pointsec for Macs may become available. It was not immediately clear how
many Apple MacBooks are in use at the NIH. It also wasn't clear whether
the ban extends to the whole of the U.S. Department of Health And Human
Services, of which NIH is a part.
An NIH spokesman did not immediately respond to an inquiry seeking more
The MacBook ban applies to in-house NIH workers and also to contractors
employed by the agency to handle sensitive data, according to the memo.
NIH employees who use laptops that are permanently anchored to a desk or
research equipment can ask for an exemption from the encryption mandate
as long as they place a "Do Not Remove" sticker on their machines.
NIH's decision highlights one of the biggest challenges facing Apple as
it seeks to make greater inroads against Microsoft in the business and
government computing markets. Commercial software developers have little
incentive to port business applications to the Mac because the platform
holds only a tiny share of the business computing market.
NIH imposed the April 4 deadline in the wake of an embarrassing incident
in February in which a laptop containing records on 2,500 patients
enrolled in a medical study was stolen. The laptop was not encrypted,
despite a 2-year-old federal policy that mandates encryption on
NIH did not disclose the type of laptop that was stolen. Apple officials
were not immediately available for comment.
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