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BlackBerry doubles down on security and IoT

BlackBerry Ltd. Chairman and CEO John Chen speaks at the BlackBerry Security Summit in New York City July 29, 2014. Chen announced at the event that they were buying privately held German firm Secusmart GmbH which specializes in encryption and anti-eavesdropping services for governments, companies and telecommunications service providers. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tgs: - Tags: BUSINESS TELECOMS) (REUTERS)

If John Chen is worried about Apple’s recently announced partnership with IBM, it doesn’t show. As BlackBerry’s CEO digs deep on his security agenda, it’s clear he has no intention of changing the company’s already-in-motion plans to flesh out its roadmap.

Speaking to media, analysts and customers at the BlackBerry Security Summit in New York today, BlackBerry’s CEO shrugged off the deal that will see Apple and IBM collaborate on developing 100 business-oriented apps for iOS devices, and IBM’s salesforce selling integrated Apple mobile solutions to enterprise customers.

BlackBerry’s security agenda, which is rooted in the company’s DNA and has been a central theme of its current restructuring, was already well underway before the Cupertino, California and Armonk, New York-based companies got together. Chen says nothing has changed, and BlackBerry’s roadmap remains focused on preparing enterprise customers – especially those in regulated industries like government, health care and financial services – for fast-evolving security-related challenges. To underscore the message, BlackBerry announced it had acquired Secusmart, a German software company that specializes in securing voice and data.

Dr. Hans-Christoph Quelle, Secusmart’s Founder and CEO, says Secusmart’s technology is already being used by governments around the world to facilitate secure voice communications. The BlackBerry deal opens up more opportunities to develop secure smartphone messaging solutions.

“We bring this technology, and BlackBerry brings this enormous power of a true global player,” he said. “It’s a perfect partnership.”

The future is IoT

BlackBerry’s chief security driver is the rise of the Internet of Things, where ordinary, offline devices like appliances, clothing and urban infrastructure increasingly sprout processors, sensors and networking capabilities.

“We are preparing ourselves for the whole concept of the Internet of Things,” Chen said. “Our whole focus is on scalability and security. It’s the one thing that will differentiate us in the future.”

The company’s QNX technology, which underpins the BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system, is central to managing the coming explosion in demand for effective security technology, tools and processes.

“We are going to push QNX even further into the connected home, the connected factory, the connected everything,” said Chen. “If you look at it, it’s how devices talk securely to each other.”

They’ll need to. BlackBerry’s President of Global Enterprise Services, John Sims, says companies that fail to figure IoT out will pay a heavy price.

“This is a board-level risk governance issue, not an IT department issue,” he said. “This can destroy companies for decades if they get it wrong. If you think BYOD is difficult, let me tell you, the Internet of Things is BYOD on steroids. There’s a tsunami of risk coming at these organizations, and if you don’t solve it now, you will be lost at sea.”

A unique value proposition

As BlackBerry pivots back to its enterprise roots, Chen says his company’s culture of security is already differentiating it in the minds of corporate customers who have always prioritized secure solutions. Charles Eagan, BlackBerry’s VP of Software Foundation Technologies, says companies typically underestimate how critical security has become to their respective futures.

“Security is a lot like oxygen,” Egan said. “You don’t notice it until it’s missing, and when it’s missing it’s all you can think about.”

Chen said there is a growing urgency to security as regulated industries grapple with ill-trained users, increasingly interconnected, often employee-owned devices and the exploding number and severity of hackings and other attacks. He reminded attendees that BlackBerry dominates the market for cross platform device management, with more market share than the next three companies combined.

Mark Wilson, BlackBerry’s Senior Vice President of Marketing says security isn’t just a convenient vendor buzzword. The definition is becoming far more involved thanks to accelerating IoT, BYOD and mobility, and companies that fail to recognize the shift risk being left behind.

“It’s really becoming a much more sophisticated world in terms of how we look at security,” he said. “It underlines everything that we do, in terms of how we build our products, the code that we live by, it really lives through security.”

With the security stake now buried completely in the ground, BlackBerry’s next challenge revolves around delivering on its increasingly strategic promise to keep us safe no matter where customers are, or what devices they may be using.

Carmi Levy is a London, Ont.-based independent technology analyst and journalist. The opinions expressed are his own.