BlackBerry 10 gets security thumbs-up from Uncle Sam
Research In Motion is still at least three months from shipping phones based on its new BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system. But the company has shipped at least one thing in time for Christmas—a government security certification for its unreleased phones.
In an effort to stem losses from its most loyal base—government agencies—RIM announced today that BlackBerry 10 devices had received Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2certification for their cryptographic modules. FIPS 140-2 is a basic requirement for any device to be used by US federal agencies for “sensitive” communications—which includes internal unclassified email and voice communications.
FIPS certification has long been RIM’s foot in the door with government customers, and it’s why BlackBerry has remained dominant in the government market as its overall market position eroded. But that dominance is now threatened—in part because of RIM’s loss of market share everywhere else.
In October, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) announced it would be replacing over 17,000 BlackBerry devices issued to employees with Apple iPhones. ICE officials listed RIM’s declining market share and concerns about the company’s long-term viability among the reasons for the agency’s switch.
The Defense Department—RIM’s single largest government customer—is also contemplating cutting ties with BlackBerry. On October 22, the Defense Information Systems Agency took the first step in its plans to integrate iPhones and Android devices into DOD networks, issuing a request for proposalsfor a mobile device management system for up to 262,500 mobile devices that must support iOS and Android. Support for BlackBerry, Microsoft Windows Phone 8, and Windows 8 RT devices is mentioned in the RFP as a desired option, but not required. The deadline for proposals—November 27—has vendors scrambling to pull together their bids.
The Army has been pushing hard for Apple and Android smartphone technology for years as well. In 2010, the Army’s CIO staged an internal “Apps4Army” mobile app development contest; all the winners were Android and iOS apps. The Army has also published a platoon of its own public apps in Apple’s App Store, and in March launched its own internal app marketplace (marketplace.army.mil) with Android and iOS apps. The service has even considered giving new recruits iPhones to access training apps.
That’s because many Army recruits—and other government employees—are already carrying their own personal Android and iOS devices. Apple is making other inroads with iOS in the government tablet market—the Department of Veterans Affairs has adopted the iPad in its hospitals, for example. And while the Department of Health and Human Services has turned up a nose at Android, it has embraced iOS and Windows Phone alongside its BlackBerry fleet.
All of that spells trouble for RIM, regardless of BlackBerry 10’s preshipping stamp of crypto-approval. While the most secure phones used by government officials may still carry the BlackBerry logo, it could be just a matter of time before the “ObamaBerry” gets traded in for an iPhone or “ObamaDroid.”