Pentagon Shoots Down Dump-BlackBerry Rumor
Both the Pentagon and BlackBerry have said the mobile device maker's products still figure into the Department of Defense's plans to expand its use of commercial mobile devices. However, it now becomes a question of operating system security for the companies involved, and how fast they can update server management systems and other features to meet government approval.
BlackBerry and the Pentagon have denied a report that the U.S. Department of Defense has dropped BlackBerry 10 devices from its purchase list. However, the BlackBerry used to be the exclusive mobile device at the Pentagon, and defense officials are sticking with plans to include other commercial devices.
"Our work with the U.S. Department of Defense is going well and [it] is moving forward with testing of BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 and the new BlackBerry Z10 smartphone," the company said in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by BlackBerry representative Ed Marshall.
"We are currently working with the Defense Information Systems Agency and anticipate Security Technical Implementation Guide and Security Requirement Guide approval for the BlackBerry Device Service, BlackBerry 10 and BlackBerry PlayBook by early April," the statement said.
The DoD's Response
The DoD has said it's not dumping BlackBerry, but is including the smartphone platform in its move to multiple mobile devices.
Mark Norton, head of the DoD Commercial Mobile Device Working Group, sent TechNewsWorld a link to a February 15 memo that updated the Pentagon's mobile policies. The plan calls for the DoD's CIO to oversee the creation of an enterprise solution for unclassified services that will leverage commercial carrier infrastructure. This will provide entry points for classified services.
That follows up on a June 2012 memo from DoD chief information officer Teresa M. Takai that introduced the new mobile strategy.
"The advantage of using commercial products is that the Department can let the commercial industry continue to mature and improve the products so that it can save money, and the refresh rate can happen more often," Brad Curran, an aerospace and defense senior industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan, told TechNewsWorld.
OSes Getting Busy With Security
"The DoD has recognized for a long time that they need to leverage the mature commercial technologies there are out there," Curran added, "and there are several applications that are more popular, efficient and cost-effective than BlackBerry in the device, software and networks area, so they've been experimenting with all kinds of options."
A secure version of Android is being developed at the behest of the DoD and the National Security Agency, said Michael Morgan, a senior analyst at ABI Research. Android is "a natural option" for the DoD because it's an open OS with a huge ecosystem, he said.
Meanwhile, Apple's attempts to beef up security for iOS include this week's introduction of two-factor authentication for all Apple IDs. Starting May 1, the company will also ban apps that contain a unique device identifier, which lets people track iOS devices.
However, that will not be enough for the Pentagon, and "at this point the DoD will have to buy iPhones from Apple and mobile device management servers from someone else," Morgan said.
Why the DoD Wants Mobile Diversity
The DoD wants to be device and software-agnostic but still maintain a "good level" of security, Curran said. The Pentagon may also be reflecting the larger marketplace and society at large. "It's just an evolutionary thing and they're reflecting the technology culture that exists."
BlackBerry's BES Server, its mobile device management platform, "is well and tightly integrated with the [company's] devices because they are made by the same company," Morgan added. "However, this is a single-source security platform and that, in itself, could create a single point of failure, which is not a good thing."
Still, BlackBerry can't be written off. "No one's going to just drop BlackBerry tomorrow and go to something new," Curran noted. "It's going to be an evolutionary process just like in the commercial market, but it'll probably be slower in the DoD world because of security considerations."