Is our security at risk when government agencies ditch BlackBerrys for iPhones?

Is our security at risk when government agencies ditch BlackBerrys for iPhones?

Summary: The ATF announced they are switching from BB smartphones to the iPhone, following the announcement by NOAA that they are doing the same. Is security being compromised by these moves?


You may have seen some of my recent posts expressing my renewed enthusiasm for the BlackBerry PlayBook on the Mobile Gadgeteer blog, but I am still not yet back to using a BB smartphone and it sounds like more government agencies are making the switch to the iPhone too. The Politico writes that the ATF is moving from BlackBerry smartphones to the Apple iPhone in the next few months, following NOAA's recent strategy. This is not a huge blow to RIM considering that just 3,800 BlackBerrys are being swapped out by the ATF and about 3,000 by NOAA, but it is a trend they don't want to see spread to the more than 1 million other government customers.

An ATF spokesman stated that the decision for the move was primarily focused on functionality as they are looking for easier handling of video streaming, GPS navigation, camera usage, and more. I am not a security expert and do not work in the IT department, but my first concern for government agencies is security since they handle sensitive personal information in many departments and need to make sure devices can be managed and wiped with ease and reliability. The U.S. Air Force recently killed an iPad deployment plan due to security concerns.

I would have kept my Bold 9930 if my work had a BES, but without it I wasn't seeing the benefit of a RIM backend. The BB OS 7 devices are very solid smartphones and with new technologies such as BlackBerry Balance, RIM is working hard to satisfy the consumer and enterprise/government customer. Government agencies have spent millions on their RIM servers and I am not convinced they can get the same level of control and security on iPhone or Android smartphones. Do you think these agencies are making the right move or should they stick with BlackBerry smartphones?

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Topics: Mobility, Hardware, iPhone, Mobile OS, BlackBerry, Security, Smartphones

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  • Wow not getting much in the way of feedback here.

    Well as an Apple fan I'm happy to hear that Apple is getting government business. It has not always been so. As for security I would HOPE that those in charge of those kind of decisions did their job and researched the subject.

    Pagan jim
    James Quinn
  • Can it be done?

    I'm a BlackBerry fan, but realistically that means nothing. With the new BB 10 phones anticipated to be released in the fall, one might argue that BlackBerry may retain its hold on this sector of the market, but I have to wonder if you can provide the functionality of an iPhone, or any of the other superphones and still maintain the high level of security that has traditionally drawn organizations to the Blackberry. Equating more functionality with more avenues of attack would be a fairly safe assumption IMHO. If anyone could provide it, I would think it would be RIM, but with the fast pace of change in this market can anyone provide that level of security and still compete for general market share.
  • Yes! Security Taking a Back Seat to Consumer Demands

    In my own, admittedly somewhat informed opinion, security is taking a back seat to the demands of the users. Government users, aka consumers, including those at the most senior levels of Government are demanding the ability to use iPhone and Android platforms with zero business justification and IT is struggling to make them "secure enough" as best they can. However, simply put, these are consumer platforms first with security bolted on afterwards. RIM is very much security first and inclusive throughout the deveopment process, something the other platforms cannot match.

    Having said that, the security of all platforms only covers half the issue. "Mobile Security" is focused on data; data at rest and data in motion. However, the cellular voice side of the house is still effectively in the clear. A5 is not much better than nothing and gives users a false sense of security. Too much sensitive information is discussed over cellular voice (and SMS) with effectively zero encryption. It is all easily intercepted, en mass (tens or hundreds of calls at a time), with about $1500 in gear. Its a shame that, despite many available applications for encrypting voice, this problem is essentially ignored.
  • this could have been an interesting article

    Matt, the article you wrote fails to answer the question you posed in the title. It doesn't even really discuss it. If you title an article, "Is our security at risk when government [goes with iPhone over BB]," you should discuss the issue. In this article, instead, you gave the news that two agencies are moving to iPhone, briefly discuss why they say they're doing it, voice a concern you have with security, then wrap up the article stating your own opinions on BB devices and mentioning that government agencies have been using RIM for a while and thus have security in place.

    Nowhere do you actually discuss the pros and cons of iPhone v. RIM. I am genuinely interested in this topic--and with the topic of security on mobiles in general--and am disappointed that this post was so light on substantive analysis and information.
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