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.”
Welcome to world of 2099
The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.
Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.
This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.
Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.
As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.
“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”
The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.
“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”
- Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
Use the page links below to continue reading about Tan’s visions.
Win a Poster Heater with Gadget and Takealot.com
This winter Gadget and Takealot.com are giving away three Poster Heaters, which look like posters but become heaters when you plug them in.
Three Gadget readers will each win a unit, valued at R550 each. To enter, follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter and tell us on the @GadgetZA account how many Watts the heater consumes.
What’s the big deal about these heaters? Many of us are struggling to keep the balance between soaring electricity costs and the need to keep warm this winter.
However, the recently launched Poster Heater by EasyHeat and distributed in South Africa by Takealot.com is not only one of the most cost effective electric heaters currently on the market, it is also easy to setup and use.
As the name indicates, it is a poster similar to one you would hang on a wall. But, plug it in and it turns into a 300 Watt heater. The Poster Heater isn’t designed to heat hallways or large rooms, but rather smaller ones like a bedroom or a baby’s nursery or a dressing room.
It uses radiant heating, which means that it heats up in a couple of minutes and the heat is directed at the objects or people around it, quickly taking the chill out of the air and providing a comfortable ambient temperature.
The other advantage of radiant heating is that it doesn’t dry out the air like infrared or gas heaters. Users also don’t have to worry about their children or pets getting too close to it because, even though it gets hot, it can be touched.
To enter the competition follow the steps below:
Competition entry details:
3. The competition closes on 31 July 2018.
4. Winners will be notified via Twitter on 1 August and Takealot.com will be in touch to organise delivery.
5. The competition is only open to South African residents.