Lock up your Crackberries
Smartphones can be secure
Sysadmin blog Most of the articles about the security of Research In Motion’s Blackberries have focused on governments that want a peek behind RIM’s encryption, but other elements of the Blackberry make it well-designed for a business environment.
Administrators who work with Blackberries are familiar with the ways in which handhelds can be controlled from Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES). BES can push down policies which allow administrators to enable just about any feature of a handheld or handhelds. If the unit has been lost or stolen, they can locate it using the GPS, or remotely wipe it.
In addition, there are only two ways to move a Blackberry from one BES setup to another. The first is to deactivate the handheld against the old server and reactivate against the new one. Doing this completely wipes all personal information (e-mail, contacts) from the device immediately. The second method is to wipe the handheld and reactivate against the new server.
This means that it is difficult for individuals to use a Blackberry handheld for corporate data theft. You can prevent a user from tethering a Blackberry using Desktop Manager and synching data to a PC outside company control. It is not possible to disconnect the Blackberry from the server, join a new one, and push all the information up to the new server. An unscrupulous Blackberry user with sensitive information could, of course, turn the radio off on the device to prevent a remote wipe from the (most likely former) organisation’s BES, but they would be forced to copy the information off the handheld manually. While not infallible, Blackberry security is robust.
Despite Research In Motion’s failure in the consumer market, and encryption spats, look at the security model to understand why Research In Motion has earned its position as the enterprise mobile device.
It is odd to long-time Blackberry administrators that these features are news to anyone. The push by vendors and carriers to move Android and iPhone into the business world have focused on Exchange connectivity at the expense of discussing security. Non-Blackberry administrators may simply not have been exposed to these features.
The explosive growth of handhelds should be forcing a rethink of mobile data security. Powerful as Blackberry security is, alternatives are appearing. Microsoft offers System Center Mobile Device Manager to support Windows Mobile 6.1 and newer handhelds. This brings the security of Windows Mobile within range of the Blackberry.
Third party mobile device management applications are also appearing, each supporting mixtures of Symbian, WebOS, iOS, Android, Windows Mobile and Blackberry. Zenprise, Fromdistance, Soti, MobileIron, Excitor, Tangoe and Sybase’s Afaria are all contenders. Research In Motion has an excellent product with a well-established history in enterprise mobile device security, but it had best watch its back. ®