UK government keeps RIM in play with BlackBerry 7 security rating

Summary:RIM is holding on to the niche government market by certifying BlackBerry 7 as fit for government use, while Apple and Google have yet to step up to the mark.

The U.K. government's electronic security group, CESG has rubber-stamped Research in Motion's newest operating system as fit for government and law enforcement use.

Google and Apple have yet to achieve the highly coveted status that RIM has been able to reach for two years in a row.

A plan to issue iPads to all members of Parliament (MPs) is set to go ahead in the coming weeks, though the devices cannot be used to read classified material.

Civil servants, ministers, secretaries of state and MPs alike, will be able to send and receive documents classified up to "RESTRICTED", which is reserved for material that might make the government look silly if leaked, but is unlikely to spark a war.

The CESG approval is good news for the BlackBerry maker, but it's not government machines or devices that get hacked.

It often falls down to human error, incompetence, or good old-fashioned plain stupidity, such as the time "TOP SECRET" documents were left by a senior civil servant on an outbound train to Surrey.

BlackBerry's get lost all the time. Because the devices are plugged into the security matrix, the devices are unreadable to those outside the walls of government. But more often than not it's the civil servants themselves who leak documents to the press, rather than a journalist stumbling on a governmental BlackBerry.

There are five levels of classification in the U.K. that relate directly to the level of vetting one receives, with "RESTRICTED" settling low down in fourth place.

From these classifications stems an interesting story --- something the Brits are keen for their American counterparts never to forget:

The U.K. and U.S. government aligned their security clearance levels during World War II. As the two strongest allies, the U.K.'s security classification of documents --- including the top "Most Confidential"  --- was misunderstood by the U.S. government and led to classified material finding its way to the hands of the U.S. media.

The U.K. was understandably furious and was forced to rename its security levels so the U.S. wouldn't accidentally hand over matters of national security to the press.

In the meantime, BlackBerry's still hold the government niche market. But others are catching up. Across the pond, Google and Apple have included government-grade encryption in their software and continue to seek certification. If Google and Apple pass the tests, it could lead to a mass BlackBerry exodus in the public sector.

Considering how low RIM is in market share rankings at the moment, it could signal the further demise of the smartphone maker.

Image credit: Jacqueline Seng/CNET Asia.

Related:

Topics: Government : US, BlackBerry, Government, Hardware, Mobile OS, Mobility, Security

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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