BlackBerry Protect: RIM's third-dimension to device security

Screenshot gallery: A hands on, in-depth look at Research in Motion's new BlackBerry Protect application: the third-leg of their 'mission' on tight security.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor on

Research in Motion, manufacturer of the BlackBerry device and operating system are currently testing the third-leg of their 'mission' on tight security.

BlackBerry Protect is currently in beta and works on two levels: the device application which manages backup's and restoring data to and from the device to RIM's secure cloud, and the web portal which allows device owners to manage their backups and use utilities to recover their phone if lost or stolen.

Gallery To see an in-depth look at the BlackBerry Protect device application and web portal, currently in beta, head on over to the screenshot gallery.

Rachel King, ZDNet's resident digital camera and gadget guru took a look at the Protect application when it was first announced. What she didn't know is that RIM had kindly added me to the beta program to try it out first-hand.

I did ponder a few months ago whether in-house solutions being created to fill the gaps from their products would stifle innovation and creativity. Twitter has its own mobile applications, now has Facebook - and some of the most popular applications like UberTwitter are now defunct.

BlackBerry Protect is guilty of this, but in a very good way. Research in Motion prides itself on its security. If I could pick out the three pillars of its integral security and privacy protection - even in spite of the recent India, Saudi Arabia & United Arab Emirates vs. Research in Motion kerfuffle, it would be the following.

First is their in-house cloud datacenters where all BlackBerry data travels through Research in Motion's secure pipes and not through the mobile network. Secondly are the devices themselves. They are incredibly secure to the point where governments trust the devices, and surpass iPhone's and iPad's in security levels according to Forrester Research.

The third comes in two halves. BlackBerry Enterprise Servers have Exchange-like properties which can remotely manage IT policies and wipe devices over-the-air. Ordinary consumers of BlackBerry Internet Service now have BlackBerry Protect which acts in very much the same way. This consumer focus is the second half to the third pillar which creates a triangle of almost infallible strength.

So what's so good about it then? (All links below will open a new window/tab to the specific area detailed in the screenshot gallery).

The device application itself is designed simply for backing up and restoring data. You might want to be careful about your data tariff on your phone though, as this could churn up quite a bit if you run a daily backup. However the application designers thought of this and not only added an option to only backup over Wi-Fi instead of over-the-air on your mobile network, but also to prevent it from backing up over the mobile network whilst roaming abroad.

The portal though allows you greater access to features to help you recover your phone if lost, stolen or misplaced. It includes a locate feature which remotely (still over-the-air) turns on the GPS on your device and displays as accurately as it can where your phone is on a map. If your BlackBerry doesn't have a GPS line of sight to the satellites, location aiding will be used and it still gives you a ballpark idea of where you phone is hiding.

It can blank out your BlackBerry's desktop wallpaper with a bright red background and a customised remote message to offer an incentive to whoever finds it. You could ask for it back, leave your mobile number on the screen, or if you are extra cautious you can remotely lock your device with a password too, to really protect your device.

Have you ever left your phone lying around and your little kid has picked it up and hidden it? You could ring it of course, but because it's the weekend you put your BlackBerry on 'silent'. The portal has an option to initiate a loud ringwhich changes your profile to the 'loud' setting and lets off the default ringtone. It will stop ringing once you mash the keyboard/screen of your phone after you honed in on it.

Of course, you can remotely backup your device even while it isn't in your pocket. In fact it can be on the other side of the world; provided it has a mobile network signal, you can backup your entire phone - including calendar, contacts, text messages, memo's and browser bookmarks within a matter of minutes.

And as you would expect, the dual-key system to the nuclear missile launch-like system includes a very own device kill-switch; just as Enterprise Server users will have and those using Windows Mobile and Exchange have had for years.

So far, so good. It's stable; written by BlackBerry developers who also work on the operating system, so increased reliability and better coding of the program. It works on Bold 9650, 9700, 9000, the Storm series, and any BlackBerry device with OS 4.6 and above - including the Curve 8900 which I tested it on.

The application is still in beta and is not due out for a while yet. The beta program is still closed but you can sign-up to try and test it as and when it becomes more widely available later this year. BlackBerry Protect is expected to be free, and could well be installed as part of the operating system in due time.

Any questions?

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