BlackBerry 7 OS, handsets, OK for federal workers

To no one’s surprise, the latest BlackBerry handsets and operating system have passed Canadian and U.S. security certification for use by government employees handling critical data.

Research In Motion said Wednesday that smart phones running the BlackBerry 7 and 71. operating systems have been awarded FIPS 140-2 certification by the independent National Institute of Standards and Technology (NITS), a U.S.-based laboratory, and the Canadian government’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE).

FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standards Publications) is a joint program between NITS and the CSE, which is responsible for the security of the Canadian government’s telecommunications systems.

Validated products are accepted by the federal governments of both countries.

“It’s critically important we go through independent testing, validation and certification programs” to prove BlackBerry security, said Scott Totzke, RIM’s vice-president of security.

All data is encrypted on BlackBerrys to ensure security, he said.

FIPS 140-2 covers cryptographic modules that run in desktops, laptops and mobile devices. Certification means that government employees who want to run what in Canada is called Designated Information, and in the U.S. sensitive information, can use these devices.

U.S. government employees who handle sensitive information on mobile devices have to use FIPS 140-2 approved units, Totzke said, while it is merely a “strong preference” for Canadians government workers who touch Designated Information.

The newly-certified handsets include the BlackBerry Bold 9900, 9930 and 9790, the Torch 9850, 9860 and 9810, and the Curve 9350, 9360, 9370 and 9380.

RIM’s PlayBook tablet, which runs the QXN operating system, was certified last July.

Previous versions of BlackBerry’s operating system also achieved FIPS approval. Without giving details, Totzke said any operating system upgrade tries to improve on the previous version’s security by making it more efficient as well resistant to “side-channel attacks” like differential power analysis. Among the techniques is built-in attack countermeasures.

Still, he said the most recent security innovation from RIM [Nasdaq: RIMM; TSX: RIM] is BlackBerry Balance, available on later version of BB OS6 and up, which separates personal and corporate data so users can have both on the handsets.

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