BlackBerry 10 gets federal security approval

Research in Motion (RIM) chief executive Thorsten Heins

Research in Motion (RIM) chief executive Thorsten Heins speaks during the BlackBerry Jam 2012 conference at the San Jose Convention Center in California. (Sept. 25, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Research In Motion Ltd. said its new BlackBerry 10 operating system has won security certification from the U.S. government as the debut approaches of the smartphone platform it’s counting on to revive sales.

BlackBerry 10 handsets and tablet computers have earned a stamp of approval for secure communications known as FIPS 140-2 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said Michael Brown, RIM’s vice president for security product management.

It’s the first time that BlackBerrys have been certified for FIPS, or Federal Information Processing Standards, before their commercial debut.

“It’s a very important tick in the box that the other guys don’t have,” said John Jackson, a mobile platforms analyst at research firm IDC in Boston. “The sooner they can get a head start in actively engaging these markets with BB10, the better.”

RIM, which plans to introduce the operating system in next year’s first quarter, is looking to shore up its support among U.S. government agencies that have been among its biggest and staunchest clients. The company is relying on those customers as it cedes market share among U.S. consumers to Apple Inc.’s iPhone and devices running Google Inc.’s Android software.

Gold Standard

The certification should help cement the device’s reputation with government customers as the gold standard for mobile-device security, Brown said.

“‘The FIPS announcement helps our customers understand that we’re going to continue on that path,” Brown said in a telephone interview yesterday. “The benefit there for customers is they have that secure platform to build solutions that allows them to be successful.”

The Defense Department last month said it plans to hire a contractor to build a system that will manage and secure at least 162,500 Android devices and Apple devices, a potential threat to Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM’s dominance in Washington.

RIM says it has more than 1 million government customers in North America alone. Scott Totzke, senior vice president for BlackBerry security, said in April that sales to U.S. federal agencies are rising and the BlackBerry is still a White House fixture.

A significant threat to its government and corporate business has been a shift by some organizations to allow employees to bring devices to work and then install a security layer into the software, said IDC’s Jackson. Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., whose 25,000 staff members provide consulting services to the U.S. government, last month dropped RIM as a smartphone supplier.

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Apple Tide

There has been a “tide of Apple devices coming into the enterprise, but there will be core enterprise markets and government markets where this sort of security is non- negotiable,” said Jackson. FIPS certification “is a very important step for RIM in securing its right to continue to address those markets with BB10.”

RIM shares rebounded this morning from their Nov. 7 decline, the biggest since June, after a Pacific Crest Securities report said BlackBerry 10 will struggle to attract buyers.

RIM last week said more than 50 carriers have begun lab- testing the new smartphones, spurring a rally in the shares from investors betting that the debut will come early next year.

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