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BlackBerry pursues Greatness: The sequel

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BlackBerry may be yesterday’s smartphone brand but, at its annual Security Summit in New York, it was looking a lot like tomorrow’s mobile security leader, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

John Chen steps out on the stage at the BlackBerry Security Summit in New York not vastly unlike Tom Cruise at the climax of a Mission Impossible movie. Truth is, he has already achieved a mission far more absurd than Cruise at his worst. He took over the running of BlackBerry 21 months ago, tasked with rescuing a company that had become an afterthought in the smartphone world.

The previous incumbent, Thorsten Heins, fell disastrously short through a strategy focused on fixing the hardware platform. He did a great job, technically speaking, getting the BB10 operating system out of the gates. Problem was, it took so long, the world lost interest. BlackBerry as a smartphone brand was so, like, 2011.

But Chen has already met his first goal, and one that many had assumed unlikely: he has brought the company back to operational profitability, with a few billion dollars spending money in the bank, and taking business away from major competitors. But that’s not smartphone business.

BlackBerry remains a world leader in securing mobile communications, and the only handset manufacturer that routinely receives military clearance for its devices to be used in the field. Its security software and platform extends well beyond its own devices, including a partnership with Samsung, and the underlying operating system for the “connected car” interface on new Ford vehicles.

Now Chen is embarking on the second mission; building the brand back to its former greatness.

“From day one I recognised the company had some greatness in pursuing privacy and security, and that this market was developing rapidly,” said the company’s CEO and exec chairman. “Last year we spent more than $100-million in creating more product for security. All our operational units are focused on that number one priority and principle. Then we want to acquire capabilities to fill in the gaps.”

It is a mark of the both the capability and confidence Chen has brought to the business that few would contradict his core message at the event: “BlackBerry has the most secure mobile platform the industry has to offer.”

And never has it been more needed. David Kleidermacher, BlackBerry’s chief security officer, explained how the advent of the Internet of Things is opening numerous backdoors into enterprises and critical systems.

He gave the example of smart hospitals, which not only aim at making access and updates of patient records smarter through the use of handsets, but can also automate many medical processes, like administering drugs.

At this point, the BlackBerry team demonstrated how a malicious hacker could easily gain access to the controls of a standard drug infusion device. The device is linked to the hospital network either through a network port or via Wi-Fi. Its IP address – a unique identifier that all Internet-connected devices have – is published in the device manual for all to see. In most cases, there is no password protection, and the security configuration is usually not up to date.

As a result, basic hacking tools can expose all the information on the device. Not only can this allow for the hacker to change the dosage and kill a patient, but also potentially access other hospital systems through following the links up the chain.

“We are creating additional surfaces of attack,” said Kleidermacher. “These become the soft underbelly of corporate access. One of the problems with security is, if it is too complicated, it gets circumvented or ignored.”

Ironically, then, precisely because we are adding more complexity to our security world, enterprises are losing the security battle.

BlackBerry’s solution, outlined at the Security Summit, is based on five principles: an end-to-end solution; a priority on productivity for both users and administrators; security at the heart of the network; a data-centric approach which means protection moves with the data; and a proactive approach that prevents vulnerabilities rather than patches them after the fact.

Not surprisingly, BlackBerry is pushing hard on the first of those principles, which corporate strategy vice president Jeff Holleran summed up as “a single solutions track from single trusted vendor”. However, he put this thrust neatly in context by describing BlackBerry’s role of intrusion detection and handling access requests as “acting as the bouncer in the sky”.

That may be convincing for customers who experience the benefits, but can BlackBerry convince the broader market that it’s in a position to provide protection in a rapidly evolving mobile environment?

For chief operating office Marty Beard it isn’t a question of if, but why the company wins this particular battle: “We’re not aspirational about getting into this world; we’re in it. We’ve got deep decades of expertise in managing devices. The world of sensors and machines will not be a surprise.”

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

 

 

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AppDate: Shedding light in our times of darkness

SEAN BACHER’S app roundup highlights two load-shedding apps, along with South AfriCAM, NBA 2K Mobile, Virgin Mobile’s Spot 3.0 and SwiftKey.

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Load Shedding Notifier

With all the uncertainty about when South Africans will next be plunged into darkness by Eskom, the Load Shedding Notifier tries its best to keep up with Eskom’s schedule. The app is very simple to use. Download it, type an area in and click the save button. The app automatically tells you what load shedding stage Eskom is on, the times you can expect to start lighting candles and for how long to burn them.

Multiple areas can be added and one can switch between the different stages to see how each one will affect a certain area.

A grid status is also displayed, showing how strained the country’s electrical network is.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

EskomSePush Load Shedding App

EskomSePush does much the same as the Load Shedding Notifier, but allows multiple cities to be tracked. However, they may just want to rethink the name of the app if they want wider respectability.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

South AfriCAM

South AfriCAM enables users to add branded stickers and frames from popular lifestyle magazine titles to their posts, including Huisgenoot, YOU, Drum, Move!, TRUE LOVE, Women’s Health and Men’s Health. 

In the process, they can earn JETPoints for their social influence: through the app’s built-in JET8 social currency, users are rewarded for their engagement. For every in-app like, comment, and share, users earn JETPoints, which can be used to redeem products online or over the counter across more than 2 500 retail stores in South Africa. Users are additionally awarded JETPoints for cross-posting onto external social media networks.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

Click here to read about console quality graphics on a mobile phone, Virgin Money payments made easier, and an app that redesigns the keyboard.

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Drones to drive
Western Cape agritech

Aerobotics is set to change how farmers treat their crops by using drones and machine learning, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The Western Cape is poised to be a hotbed of innovation in the agritech sector, with drone piloting set to playing a major role in in the tech start-up scene.

This is the view of Tim Willis, chief operating officer of pioneering drone company Aerobotics, a Cape Town drone company recognised as a world leader in agritech.

“Drone piloting is a key skill that feeds into the value chain of the budding 4th Industrial Revolution,” said Willis. “Cape Town and the Western Cape is uniquely positioned to be the melting pot for innovation in the agritech sector, as a leading agricultural exporter and a hub for creative tech start-ups.”

He was speaking at AeroCon, a drone expo organised by Aerobotics and held in Johannesburg this week aimed at providing opportunities for drone pilots to apply their skills in South Africa, and to show how drones are being used to collect data on crops. 

The event was supported by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), Wesgro, PROMMAC, MicaSense, and Rectron, among other

“We’re starting to sign up farmers across the country,” said Willis. “It’s exciting because farmers are starting to use drone technology on their farms. When a farmer wants a drone flown, they want it flown [now] so it’s important for us to capture that data as quickly as possible to show that drones are fast and effective.”

According to aerobotics, drone technology can help farmers reduce pesticide use on their crops by up to 30%. The result is environmentally friendly farming, reducing stressed crops and a healthier harvest. 

“We use aerial imagery from drones to recreate a 3D model of every single tree on a farmer’s orchard,” said Willis. “We’ve done this for millions of trees and it starts to give the farmers metrics of what they’re doing. We provide them with the health of the trees, the height, the volume, the canopy area, which enable the farms to make decisions on what to do next.”

Click here to read more about AeroCon and what it offers to those wanting to get into the drone industry.

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