BlackBerry's ambitious target: Protecting everything from smartphones to cities

BlackBerry Security Summit London: CEO John Chen details how the company wants to harness machine learning and AI.
Written by Danny Palmer, Senior Writer

BlackBerry wants to extend its security software beyond protecting devices to providing alerts across entire cities.

It said the Internet of Things is growing by the day and by 2021, the number of connected devices is expected to number 75 billion -- almost ten times the human population of the globe. But just one hole in the network could do large amounts of damage, according to Blackberry CEO John Chen.

"We believe that one vulnerability could bring the whole network down. There's an entire industry which has opened up in front of us. You can not prevent all vulnerabilities -- I think it's a good desired goal, but it's probably never achievable," he said, speaking at the BlackBerry Security Summit in London.

BlackBerry is best known as a smartphone company but in recent years has shifted into being a security software company (meanwhile the smartphones are still made, but under licence by another company).

Chen described BlackBerry's new mission as one that's "very simple" -- the goal to "secure every endpoint possible".

"We want to build a platform that actually connects security from the kernel to the edge. That's what we want to do and we believe we have many parts of the equation in place -- we'll be working hard over the coming years to expand on that," he said.

"The ultimate outcome of this inevitable convergence of ubiquitous mobility and computing power will likely turn on the cyber security decisions we make collectively over the next few years," added Chen.

SEE: How to implement AI and machine learning (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

BlackBerry technology already features in hundreds of millions of devices, with Chen citing Android mobile devices, autonomous vehicles, and more.

In order to bring all this together in one "enterprise of things" platform, BlackBerry has announced BlackBerry Spark, a platform which brings together both new and existing capabilities to bolster security of connected devices, incorporating security tools, machine learning and the ability for example to use the locations of the user to determine whether an attempted login should be trusted from certain places.

But the security firm isn't only focused on protecting organisations from cyber attacks -- Chen detailed how the company is looking to expand the reach of its security offerings to cities, including London.

"This is real-time crisis collaboration software which allows first-respondents to react in a coordinated fashion when certain things happen", said Chen, who cited the US Transportation Security Agency as a customer of the tool -- and now BlackBerry is looking to bring it to London, for use by hospitals, law enforcement, government agencies, in critical infrastructure, banks, and more.

"We're trying to bring that value to the city of London which faces its share of natural and manmade disasters. We're working on this, we're talking with a number of institutions -- hospitals, law enforcement, government agencies when things happen"

The tool ties into machine learning and AI capabilities of Sparks in what Chen told ZDNet will hopefully help organisations be able to react to events efficiently and calmly.

"The idea is to get enough institutions -- like the police, the hospitals and other agencies, as well as enterprises -- to get the same alert messages in real time about anything that's happening about disasters, but also a coordinated response," he said,

"It's pre-programmed for businesses so you don't have a moment of shock and trying to figure out who needs to call who, where an ambulance needs to go, whether there's a police lockdown -- all that," he explained.


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