The Blackphone: Consumer-Grade Privacy that’s Inadequate for Businesses

Devices

Depending on which side of the digital privacy debate you fall, Edward J. Snowden, the now-infamous cyber surveillance whistleblower, is either a traitor or a patriot. But long before his Wikipedia entry is finalized, he may also be credited with launching a cottage industry of consumer-targeted secure communications products.

Not since the Cold War was red hot has public awareness of electronic espionage been so heightened. It seems like everyone, following revelations of widespread state-sponsored digital eavesdropping, has a hankering for their own Cone of Silence.

The latest artifact of the so-called Post-Snowden era is the Blackphone, a purportedly secure smartphone. The phone’s manufacturer, SGP Technologies, started shipping preorders of the $629 device at the end of June.

As a pioneer in mobile security, accumulating thousands of patents and dozens of certifications over the past 15 years, BlackBerry welcomes the attention the Blackphone brings to secure communications and digital privacy. But when it comes to protecting corporate information and end user privacy, meeting compliance requirements and expanding the productivity of your mobile workforce, the similarities we share with Blackphone end with the name.

Consumer Targeted

As this review points out, the Blackphone was designed chiefly for consumers. The product’s target market sweet spot appears to be individuals — not necessarily affiliated with an enterprise — requiring eavesdrop-proof communications. The Blackphone appears to be designed to operate outside the realm of IT oversight.

It’s currently unclear if the Blackphone will support the logging and archiving of business communications conducted on the smartphone, an unacceptable condition for regulated organizations, such as financial services and healthcare firms.

Blackphone’s go-it-alone approach to security contrasts dramatically with BlackBerry’s end-to-end enterprise mobility management (EMM) solution. The BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 (BES10) platform provides IT with a single console for managing corporate-issued or personal BlackBerry, iOS and Android devices. BBM Protected also enables CIOs to rest assured that their workers are messaging each other securely and privately. By infusing security and control within every segment – device, EMM server and network – of the end-to-end digital journey, BlackBerry has attracted the business of some of the most security conscious and highly regulated organizations in the world.

(As of February 2015, BlackBerry holds 70+ security certifications and approvals from governments.)

Productivity Trade-offs

The maker of Blackphone proudly proclaims its laser-like focus on privacy. This from their website:

“In a world where devices and apps increasingly offer features only in return for users’ personal or sensitive information, the pent-up demand for Blackphone shows there is strong, international demand for our brand’s devices and services that stand apart by placing privacy before all else.”

BlackBerry’s similar preoccupation with  protecting user privacy is apparent through features like BlackBerry Balance and BlackBerry Guardian. BlackBerry Balance comes standard on all BlackBerry 10 devices and automatically separates personal data and applications from enterprise data, giving users the best BYOD experience on the market. We pioneered the concept of giving users the ability to control mobile application permissions and combined the BlackBerry Guardian vetting tools with Trend Micro’s expertise to protect users from malicious applications.

We also recognize that worker productivity and end-user satisfaction are just as important as privacy and security. Enterprise-grade mobile security must provide ironclad protection of behind-the-server data without impeding employee productivity or negatively impacting usability. When it comes to fully realizing the benefits of enterprise mobility, a hierarchical approach to privacy, productivity and usability just doesn’t work.

Enterprise Grade Security

Everybody should be confident that their electronic communications are kept private and their mobile devices safe from siphoning by malicious hackers. For individuals, a costly Blackphone may fall short of delivering the desired peace of mind.

For enterprises, security that stops at the device isn’t secure enough. When it comes to enterprise security – in a Pre- or Post-Snowden environment – the protection offered by BlackBerry’s end-to-end EMM solution makes the most attractive features of the Blackphone superfluous.

 

About Joe McGarvey

An Enterprise Mobility Strategist at BlackBerry, McGarvey has covered the enterprise and telecommunications industries for more than 20 years as both a journalist and analyst. He is best-known as a long-time principal analyst at leading market research firm Current Analysis. McGarvey has also been an analyst for Heavy Reading and an editor at several leading technology magazines.

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