Security must be top priority for wireless providers: RIM boss

Wireless security must be the top priority for providers doing business with the U.S. government, Research In Motion Ltd.’s (RIM’s) president and co-CEO told a government IT trade show audience.

Wireless security must include several functions, such as firewall and virus protection for all devices, the ability to log device use, encryption of data at rest and enforcement of access controls for downloads, said Mike Lazaridis, whose Waterloo, Ont.-based company makes the BlackBerry wireless devices popular with U.S. government users. “Wireless mobile security is multifaceted,” he said, speaking at the FOSE IT-in-government trade show in Washington, D.C. “I know it looks complicated, but it is.”

Lazaridis used much of his keynote speech to push the security features of BlackBerry devices, including extensive encryption and the company’s decision not to include cameras on most of its devices. In many government settings, cameras are not allowed, he said. BlackBerry devices have gained security certifications in several countries, including the U.S., U.K., Canada and the Netherlands, and NATO has authorized them for use with sensitive information, he said.

He also talked about the BlackBerry Smart Card Reader, a Bluetooth device released in October that works with common-access cards now being rolled out across the U.S. government. The reader, light enough to be carried on a lanyard around a user’s neck, can control access to BlackBerry devices or PCs. When the user walks a few meters away with the card reader, the BlackBerry or PC locks out other users.

When RIM was developing the smart-card reader, it noticed a lot of people leaving smart cards in readers stationed on desks, he said. Then, when they walked away, other people had easy access to PCs. The lanyard-based Bluetooth reader seems to solve that problem, Lazaridis said.

Government users must consider security issues when rolling out wireless services, he added. Being able to manage the devices remotely is a key issue, he said. “You don’t want to have to go visiting devices every time you want to change something,” he said. “You absolutely want to manage these devices wirelessly and in groups.”

Security remains the top focus at RIM, he said. “There really is no such thing as good enough when it comes to security,” he added. “In security, when something goes wrong, it’s really bad.”

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