BlackBerry continues to execute on their pivot to become a software, services, and device security firm. This doesn’t mean they don’t still have interesting smartphones, their licensed Key2 phone is arguably one of the most impressive secure phones currently in market. But the company’s focus is on securing the ecosystem and no firm is likely better positioned to get this done than BlackBerry. This week the firm had several interesting announcements but, perhaps, the most interesting was their new intelligent security system named Spark.
Let’s talk about what BlackBerry announced this week with particularly focus on Spark.
The New Unsecure World
First let’s level set on the current environment we are living in. Nation-states have now begun broad efforts to gain access to personal and corporate information for purposes ranging from identity and intellectual property theft to influencing elections. These largely foreign, though sometimes domestic, agencies are not just going after foreign entities but their own citizens as they attempt to profit, control, and manipulate the processes that define wealth or who runs a government.
Attacks can be focused and direct or they can trick others into becoming proxies to trick others into doing foolish things like loading malware onto their phones, PCs, and even wearable devices. Every major manufacturer is working to mitigate this threat but, even if they have a good solution, it likely only works well on their own hardware—which makes administration in a mixed environment both excessively expensive and difficult to maintain as well as largely ineffective.
Any security solution, to be workable, must work both across device types and across vendors. In addition, it must also be able to defend itself against aggressive large foreign governments that want the equivalent of a skeleton key, so they can access the supposedly now secure device.
Regardless of the agency that wants access, once such a master key is developed, given these government agencies have proven extremely easy to break into, it would likely leak to the public, rendering all devices that used it compromised.
Against this troubling backdrop BlackBerry released some interesting offerings.
BlackBerry’s Compelling Launch
Being Canadian, BlackBerry can defend against the two most aggressive governments trying to gain permanent access to otherwise secure networks and devices. Unlike other vendors in this space where security is just something else they do, BlackBerry largely leads with security as their strongest competitive advantage raising its importance inside the company to far more than the secondary or tertiary focus of most others. In addition, since they don’t own any of the major existing mobile platforms currently running on most devices, they are agnostic and avoid the concern that their stuff only runs well on their own hardware. This likely makes them the strongest potential player for those that have a similar laser focus on security. Now let’s talk about what they launched.
Contextual device management for AWS IoT
Displayed from a simplified management experience, the platform enables enterprises to add consumer and business devices into a corporate network by applying policies and management controls. This offering will enable connected ‘things’ to deliver their expected value to any workflow and reduce exposure to cyber vulnerabilities that can open the entire organization to unnecessary risk. This is critical in an area increasingly defined by BYOD where employees want to bring their own devices and currently tend to place them on otherwise secure networks, compromising them without a solution like this.
Manufacturing Service for IoT Device OEMs
This is a BlackBerry effort to enable OEMs establishing a BlackBerry Secure hardware root of trust from their own assembly line. As part of the service, BlackBerry will provide a remote and secure workstation—connected to the BlackBerry Network Operations Center (NOC)—that will provision and assign secure tokens and certificates. This should provide a strong defense for rootkits, which are almost impossible to defend against.
Expanded BRIDGE capabilities
BlackBerry extended the capabilities with what looks like a first-of-a-kind solution, BlackBerry Enterprise BRIDGE, to provide customers with the ability to seamlessly access, edit and save Microsoft Office 365 files from applications in the BlackBerry Dynamics container. This both better manages and secures these documents while enabling stronger controlled collaboration during a time when intellectual property theft is increasing.
BlackBerry UEM notifications
Particularly important during these times of insane weather and what appears to be a pissed off Mother Earth. IT administrators can now more efficiently manage compliance and security by ensuring real-time alerts don’t get lost, with the ability to send notifications through multiple-channels, including phone, text and email, from a single system. With BlackBerry UEM notifications, admins can receive within minutes, a record of who was contacted and proof the notifications were received.
BlackBerry Secure Global Directory
Positioned against the increasing phishing and spear phishing threats this faster, ultra-secure messaging solution is targeting communications between individuals working at different organizations through the new BlackBerry Secure Global Directory. This capability allows someone to see the contact information of a person outside of their organization within their directory and communicate with them securely via BBM Enterprise.
iManage integration with BlackBerry Workspaces
This solution is interesting because it addresses the variable dynamics at opposite sides of a lawsuit. Lawyers can now apply revocable digital rights management (DRM) protection to documents shared with opposing counsel via iManage. If the other side fails to live up to their obligations or doesn’t comply with court orders the opposing counsel can electronically say, “no more discovery for you”.
Spark Intelligent Security
This, I find particularly fascinating. Basically, it is a new service designed to create digital identities based on continuous, contextual authentication. This is one of the most aggressive efforts to address all types of phishing and targeted identity theft. This incredibly innovative solution uses a range of factors, such as geographic location, biometrics, time, and usage to decide what level of access should be granted to an employee or contractor profile at any given moment. BlackBerry Spark is apparently designed to integrate seamlessly with other identity providers and systems so that many of the usual ways to breach networks and systems are rendered ineffective while still allowing legitimate sharing and data access to go on.
This technology agnostic which allows it to mashup a wide range of applications and use cases. For example, emergency alerts can now be triggered using facial recognition with BlackBerry AtHoc and IBM Watson.
Wrapping Up: The Strongest Port in a Terrible Storm
When it comes to security there are few firms that take it as seriously as BlackBerry. This is incredibly important when you think about the threats we face today which are foolishly funded by governments. I say foolish, because as we move to things like robotics, automated weapons, and autonomous vehicles the problems these governments are creating could hit critical mass and make living on this planet increasingly tenuous. BlackBerry’s focus, their location, and the quality of their offerings stand out in this group of releases and makes me wonder why the world—just to feel and be safe–doesn’t just make them the gold standard. Something to think about this week.