BlackBerry doubles down on Android

Building on its first Android foray with the Priv that launched last year, BlackBerry has announced what it says is the most secure Android phone today.

Via a webcast, the long-struggling Waterloo-based smartphone maker launched the DTEK50, which is aimed at both consumers and businesses who both want the variety of applications available from the Google ecosystem and value privacy. Alex Thurber, senior vice president of global device sales, said the launch of another Android device is about giving customers choice. BB10 is not going away; its software is slated for an update in the next few weeks. “We’re going to move forward with BB10.”

Users like their applications, said Thurber, which was the driver for BlackBerry to move into the Android world while bringing its legacy of security with it. Chief security officer David Kleidermacher noted that recent security surveys, including one from Verizon, have pointed to the fact that data breaches are growing uncontrollably and threats are coming after users and the mobile devices they hold. “Some people don’t understand the privacy implications and those that do don’t have a lot of confidence.”

A recent BlackBerry survey of 1,000 businesses found that 88 per cent of respondents don’t have confidence in mobile security, added Kleidermacher. “DTEK50 is about delivering a device people love, with security they wanted.”

The DTEK50 is also about getting BlackBerry’s device business profitable too, something CEO John Chen has said the company will do by September or otherwise it will leave that business. “John has been clear about profitability,” said Thurber, reiterating the company’s pledge to provide customers choice. “DTEK50 is priced to be a broadly adopted product.”

The new Android phone running Marshmallow with BlackBerry security is already available for pre-order in a number of countries, including Canada and the United States for US$290.00. The focus on security is also apparent in BlackBerry’s route to market for the DTEK50, which in addition to being sold through the usual channels such as carriers and mobile retailers, will also be made available through other channels such as security resellers.

Among the security features in the DTEK50 that BlackBerry highlighted:

    • Rapid Security Patching: BlackBerry said it’s committed to zero-day patching, before Google even releases its monthly, public update of vulnerabilities to its ecosystem.
    • DTEK by BlackBerry App: Enables users to automatically monitor their OS and apps to know when their privacy could be at risk and to take action to improve it. It also tracks applications and notifies users when someone is taking pictures or videos without their knowledge, turning the microphone on, sending a text message, or accessing contacts or location.
    • Hardware Root of Trust: BlackBerry’s manufacturing process uses a proprietary technique that adds security from the start, allowing for the tracking, verification and provisioning of DTEK50.
      Secure Boot Process: Starting with the root of trust, each stage of DTEK50’s secure boot chain must first verify that the next component is fully intact before proceeding, ensuring the device has not been tampered with since the last restart.

Thurber said the DTEK50 is about bringing security to both CEOs and the average user, including his own kids. “I think security is something everyone should be aware of.” By coming in at a lower price point, it allows BlackBerry to expand that market by offering a device that’s BYOD friendly for individual users and enterprise-ready for “fleet” deployment.

Kleidermacher said DTEK50 builds on the legacy of security BlackBerry has built in sectors that are particularly security-conscious, such as banking, healthcare, and the legal field. “We’ve been cutting our teeth in the most demanding areas.” That legacy is being applied to the Android world across three key areas: the platform, which includes the hardware, firmware and software; communications; and the business itself.

In the long term, BlackBerry’s vision for security is to make sure that smartphones are secure enough to be a medical device – a means to program an insulin pump, for example – as well as other uses. “We still carry our wallets,” he said. “We should be able to trust our mobile phones for the highest value transactions.”

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Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has written thousands of words for print and pixel in publications across North America. His areas of interest and expertise include software, enterprise and networking technology, memory systems, green energy, sustainable transportation, and research and education. His articles have been published by EE Times, SolarEnergy.Net, Network Computing, InformationWeek, Computing Canada, Computer Dealer News, Toronto Business Times and the Ottawa Citizen, among others.

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