BlackBerry to buy German anti-eavesdropping provider

NEW YORK – BlackBerry is buying a German provider of anti-eavesdropping technology to extend its security protection from data to voice.

The company told reporters here this morning it is buying Secusmart, a company it has been partnering for some time whose solution prevents hackers from listening in on voice conversations.

The deal, which still needs regulatory approval, is part of BlackBerry’s globalization plan. While Secusmart will run as a standalone division, CEO JohnChen said, “it will be a cornerstone of our security offering.”

Secusmart makes the so-called Chancellor Phone, a special BlackBerry handset dubbed that because it’s used by German chancellor Angela Merkel. Officially called SecuSuite for BlackBerry 10, the solution does voice and text encryption through a combination of software on device plus a smart card chip embedded in a microSD card on the device. Communications are encrypted only between devices that have the protection.

The solution is sold to governments and enterprises. Secusmart CEO Hans-Christoph Quelle said that because everything mobile is on Internet Protocol (IP) listening in and copying voice conversations isn’t hard – and fast computers can give an instant transcript. “Voice is as important as PowerPoint or Excel,” he said.

With BlackBerry’s lead on protecting data “we’re the perfect match.”

Other mobile management and security providers treat security as an add-on, he said. Secusmart allows “a smart phone to be a smart phone” without users having to switch to a landline or a personal device to access social media.

A BlackBerry partner since 2009, Quelle said that “we build together with  BlackBerry the very best secure smart phone in the world. Today our goal is to get this secure device in the hands of every president or chancellor.” Its second goal, he added, is to secure mobile enterprise voice. “With Secursmart and BlackBerry combined, now your enterprise voice will become as secure as your enterprise data. We will have a cross-platform enterprise secure voice solution. The first mobile voice solution easy to roll out, easy to install, easy to use.”

“We now have the opportunity together with BlackBerry to address every company worldwide and every mobile network operator thanks to BlackBerry’s global presence.”

A BlackBerry official also said that the company will soon release a solution called Guardian that will scan Android applications for malware that are installed by customers on BlackBerry (TSX: BB) devices.

Leveraging Trend Micro’s mobile app reputation service, it will vet apps in the BlackBerry World app store. Guardian will also be installed on the upcoming BlackBerry Passport large screen and BlackBerry Classic handsets to scan apps on those devices.

Those who already have devices running BB10 will see Guardian in an upcoming software update.

Secusmart makes a range of solutions including for secure desk telephones (SecuGATE LV 1 snom edition, SecuGATE LV 1 tiptel edition), a protected switchboard  (SecuGATE LV) and for ensuring tap-proof telephone conversations (SecuBRIDGE). Combined with SecueSuite for BB10 they make what the company calls its Federal Security Suite.

It has collaborated with carrier Vodafone to make a mobile app named Secure Call for encrypting voice conversations between devices that have the software. That service will be launched at the end of the year for enterprises that don’t want or need to buy the smart card solution.

Governments and enterprises already alert staff travelling to certain countries – like Russia and China – to take only “clean” devices with no stored corporate data or contacts because the hacking skills of people there are so good. BlackBerry is positioning Secusmart as a voice defence.

In an interview industry analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates said he believes being able to offer protection for voice is another way BlackBerry will differentiate itself from competitors. “Anything they can do to keep their installed base happy is a good thing,” he said. “They don’t want more people moving off the BlackBerry platform. This helps that.“ Few organizations think about protecting voice but, it can be as sensitive as data, he said. “A class of user in the enterprise will appreciate this.”

The Secusmart announcement was the one of the few pieces of news at what was billed as a security summit. Most of the morning was spent with BlackBerry officials talking about how the company’s end to end solution — which includes BES 10 device management and Secure WorkSpace for Android and iOS devices, and the upcoming QNX-based BlackBerry Cloud for machine to machine communications  — are better than assembling bundles from competitors.

There were no new capabilities for BlackBerry Enterprise Services announced. Secursmart has been a BlackBerry partners for several years, and there was no word on how it’s purchase will enhance access to its solutions for North American customers.

In an interview John Sims, president of BlackBerry global enterprise services was asked how the company convinces organizations that aren’t running BES now that its mobile management suite is best in a mixed environment.

BES server offers “fine grained management on BlackBerry, iOS and Android devices for the control of applications, the devices themselves, and the data” depending on the enterprise’s needs, he said. “We can cover the full range – BYOD, COPE (corporate-owned, personal-enabled) … no one else does that range of different services.”

As for the recently-announced Apple-IBM partnership, which seeks to marry IBM’s enterprise security and application development capabilities to Apple’s popular platform, Sims  wasn’t impressed.

“We tell customers we have the ability to support their systems and security levels today. The Apple-IBM partnership may produce something 12 months, 18 months form now, but why wait?”

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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