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May 2, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 11:23am

Understanding your data is the key to staying safe, says BlackBerry chief

The worker’s favourite device company sits down to talk mobile security.

By Vinod

With omore than a decade’s experience in serving business customers around the world, BlackBerry is no slouch when it comes to ensuring its users stay safe when using its devices.

At the recent Infosec security conference in London, CBR sat down with Michael Brown, VP Security Product Management and Research at BlackBerry, to learn more about the company latest services and what they have planned for the future.

Michael Brown BlackBerry

So what brings BlackBerry to InfoSec and what trends are you seeing at this year’s show?

The focus for us this year is around BES10 (the latest version of BlackBerry Enterprise Service) and identifying what is our cross-platform strategy – so how BES10 manages iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices. But we’re also talking about BlackBerry 10 devices too, and how they fit within that environment.

In many ways, (Infosec 2014) is very much about security, rather than being a standalone, being just one part of the overall solution being offered. So you see a company coming and talking about how their product secures the environment along with all of these other things, like control, like management, like auditing capabilities, whereas in previous times the conversation would be more focused on very specific security offerings – although those are here too.

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BlackBerry fits extremely well into the discussion here, as our value proposition has always been ‘how can you enable mobility in a safe and secure way?’

In your opinion, what should the average CIO or CISO be focusing on at the moment?

The first thing, first and foremost, should be, what data do you have? It’s fascinating – I get a chance to talk to a lot of customers, and often the discussion starts off as being, ‘tell me about security and BlackBerry’, but it very quickly turns into, ‘how does your business operate?’ or ‘how does mobility fit in?’

To understand that, I need to know what data do you have, what types of protection do you need to have, and what controls are there – and often it’s very much an archaeological expedition to get to that point – it’s very much a base case of understanding what data you have, and then you can think about how does mobility fit into all of that then as well.

BB10 has been out for a while now – what kind of feedback have you had from users?

Well, I spend a lot of time with government and enterprise customers, and the feedback that I’ve gotten around BlackBerry10 has been extremely positive. The focus of the discussions that I have concern how BlackBerry fits within your mission-critical applications – I spend a lot of time with police forces, for example, and in talking to them, they want to know how they can get an officer in the field with access to the data they need at the right time so that they can do whatever the right thing for them to do is.

Things like BlackBerry Balance, for example, in terms of the work-personal separation, I think have resonated extremely well. I also spend a lot of time with regulated customers, and what’s fascinating is that even in those types of environments, they need to balance what is kind of user experience they want to have on whatever device. Everyone’s a user – no matter what the position they might be in, so they want that pleasing experience in front of them. So talking to a lot of those customers, something like BlackBerry Balance resonates really well, because it allows an end-user to have that great user experience, but also separate corporate or governmental data, whatever might be on there, giving that kind of unified experience, such as letting them see work and personal life appointments together in one calendar.

I recently spoke to another security company, which said that in producing BB10, BlackBerry had traded off security for functionality – what are your thoughts on this?

I don’t agree with that type of statement. If you really look at what happened during our transition from our previous devices to BB10, it was very much about how we re-architect the entire station from the ground up using the lessons of the previous decade.

If you think about what actually runs BB10 at its base level, it’s things like the same software that powers a part of the ISS, the International Space Station, it’s things like four Cisco routers, its all of these things where mission-critical elements are needed, and that’s the core of BB10.

I think what’s interesting about BB10 is that we had the opportunity to say – can we simplify what the IT experience is by actually building an architecture which precludes the need for those IT controls. I talk about BlackBerry Balance because it provides that effectively DLP protection in the base offering system without the administrator actually having to configure anything there. So it’s a simpler user experience, it’s a simpler management experience, but providing very strong security.

BlackBerry has obviously had some well-documented difficulties – has a smaller, less consumer-focused customer base given you the opportunity to develop these offerings more and become more focused?

What we’ve said is that our focus is very much on regulated markets – government markets as well, too. I’m a security person, and the benefit for me is that those are the kind of customers that really want to talk about security, that are really passionate about the industry, and they want to hear about what’s going on there. So yes, absolutely – we look at the work that has gone in to BB10, for example, which has transitioned well over time – BES10 has as well, so it’s very much about emphasising how we get that containment and that control built into the platform – and the customer feedback that we’re getting is really great.

Moving on to BES10 – what are the challenges around developing a multi-OS solution?

BES10 offers multi-platform control – we have a container solution called Secure Workspace that runs on iOS and Android too, and there will also be forthcoming support for Windows Phone coming along soon. The big challenges there from a customer side, and also from a development side, are the differences between operating environments. Our goal with the BES10 experience is that it should be as consistent as possible for the administrator, no matter what device is being managed, so you want to provide that consistent experience that will allow you to access the very specific things that certain environments will offer you, but then also from a user perspective provide a native experience on a platform that they’re used to – if I’m an iOS user, I want to make sure that that secure workspace fits within all of the design in there – similar with Android too.

So it’s an interesting balance between the two – we want the consistency across all the devices at a management layer, but also a consistency within the platform, at a user level, as well.

BlackBerry has also recently introduced touchscreen devices – have you seen any security issues concerning this?

It’s a good point, as a touchscreen changes how someone inputs the information going in to a device. One of the really interesting things we came out with the BB10.2.1 software update was a picture password – so the idea was how do we let you, instead of using a traditional password, you overlay a grid of numbers over the top of pictures, unlocking by intersecting or moving things around on the screen. What we’ve really been spending time on is how we take advantage of the touchscreen to give you a better user authentication experience, and also provide a decent level of security for logging in.

Finally, what does the next 12 months hold for BlackBerry?

Well we announced BES12 at Mobile World Congress, which will be coming this Fall, and that’s really looking at Windows Phone support, as well as a lot of work around how do I simplify the server configuration and the management pieces around BBOS devices as well – a number of elements are coming in for BES12.

From a BB10 perspective, we’ve announced a lot of new devices which are coming out soon, such as pre-orders for the Z3, which is a new device launching in Indonesia, as well as a BlackBerry Classic coming out this Fall – there’s a lot of excitement over that.
People often forget how long BlackBerry has been providing MDM solutions in the market – we’re the largest provider of those solutions by far in the market, and the work we’ve been doing in bringing multi-platform solution to market with BES10 resonates with all our customers based off our heritage and over a decade of providing those solutions.


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