(Kiyoshi Ota - Bloomberg) (Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg)

A high percentage of federal workers have put themselves or their agencies at risk with their mobile-device habits, according to a new survey from an industry group.

The analysis, from Mobile Work Exchange, covers only a small sample of employees who responded to an online questionnaire, but it offers clues to what’s happening within the federal workforce. It includes responses from 155 individuals working for the government and 97 employed in the private sector.

Forty-one percent of federal-employee respondents indicated they had engaged in some type of behavior that makes them or their agencies vulnerable to attacks, but the results generally indicate that federal workers exhibit greater caution than their private-sector counterparts. Out of 13 categories, government workers showed more vigilance in all but one compared to private-sector employees.

Among the findings, 31 percent of federal workers said they have used public WiFi on a work device, compared to 41 percent of workers employed by private firms. In another example, 15 percent of government employees said they have downloaded a non-work-related app on their work devices, whereas 60 percent in the private sector said the same.

In terms of authentication, 28 percent of federal employees admitted to using an “easy” password, whereas 41 percent in the private sector said the same. But in the one category that bucked the trend, 25 percent of federal workers said they do not use any password on their work mobile devices, compared to a slightly smaller 23 percent of those in the private sector.

Only 6 percent of government employees said they have lost or misplaced their mobile phones, while 15 percent in the private sector indicated they had done so.

Protecting digital devices has taken on greater importance for federal agencies in recent years, largely due to growth in telework and the increasing sophistication of hacking techniques. Ninety percent of government workers in the survey said they use at least one mobile device — such as laptops, smartphones and tablets — for work purposes.

In 2006, the theft of a laptop from a Department of Veterans Affairs employee put the sensitive information of millions of Americans at risk, although the agency recovered the computer and said its data was not accessed. That same year, federal officials acknowledged that thousands of laptops had vanished in the previous five years from the Department of Commerce, including more than 250 from the Census Bureau that contained personal information such as names, incomes and Social Security numbers.

In terms of training workers to protect their devices, 26 percent of government respondents said they had not received security training for work devices, compared to 63 percent of those working for private firms. Thirty-two percent of federal employees in the survey said they had not received IT training to work remotely, while 64 percent from the private sector said the same.

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