Smartphones

Here is how Blackberry makes its phones ultra-secure for users

by Ivan Mehta

Since the pre-smartphone era, Blackberry has been a pioneer of mobile security. Although the company doesn't make smartphones now, it licenses the label to manufacturers to produce Blackberry branded Android phones. It also provides software services and guidance to ensure that the smartphones are one of the most secure phones in the world to use.

Killer Features had a chance to catch up with Blackberry's senior vice president and general manager of mobility solutions Alex Thurber at the company's event in Delhi. And we talked about smartphone security and more.

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When asked how Blackberry ensures the security of smartphones with so many vendors, Thurber said that the manufacturers have to follow a certain process for making Blackberry branded phones. If the processes are not followed, the phone doesn't work.

"We start with the secure manufacturing. Every phone goes through BSIM (Blackberry Secure Integrated Manufacturing) process. So at the end of the day, customers know that they are getting a genuine Blackberry smartphone," he said.

Thurber added that additionally, the company works on the kernel tying it to the secure boot. That's why Blackberry phones are averse to rooting. The company also injects cryptography into the base code of kernel and the version of Android the phone uses.

It's interesting that Blackberry phones are encrypted out of the box. The users have to specifically turn the encryption off if they want to explicitly. For the nerds out there BlackBerry uses FIPS (The Federal Information Processing Standard) 140.2 encryption at that level.

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Thurber also said that while the DTEK application looks simple on the front, it does a lot of stuff in the background. For instance, the user can set a notification alert if any of the applications trigger the mic or camera. Users are allowed to mention the exemptions as well. DTEK constantly evaluates the state of security on the phone and if something is out of place it informs the user to take certain action to make the phone secure again.

He emphasised that the company is committed to releasing monthly security patches. It reminds users to update to the latest version repeatedly. And even if for some reason if the phone is not on the latest patch the software is equipped to fend off most of the threats.

"There will be an update to DTEK early next year with certain Machine learning and AI features which will enhance the security. Right now there is a team which looks out for attacks and works with the likes of Google and Qualcomm to patch up things if needed," Thurber informed us.

In past couple of years, many vulnerabilities have been discovered in chipsets and Android framework. We asked Thurber how's Blackberry's security is equipped to handle that before the security patch is issued.

The company has also started working with third-party manufacturers to provide secure OS services. It has already partnered with Bullit group which produced rugged CAT series of phones in the UK. Although Thurber said that there is no announcement right now regarding the partnership with major smartphone manufacturers.

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