Android has a really lousy security reputation. It is almost as if Google looked at all the grief Microsoft got in the late ‘90s with regard to not taking security seriously enough and envied that attention. This has created a significant problem in a BYOD world where a lot of the affordable tablets are Android-based. So BlackBerry, a firm with a strong security history, is partnering with Google to at least address the perception that Android is unsecure. The question is, can they address the reality, as well?
Perceptions and Security
The fact of the matter is that security is about perceptions. People believed the NSA was as secure as you could get in a government agency. Then, the Snowden event happened and almost immediately the NSA and, by association, every other three-letter agency, was seen as vulnerable.
Perception is very important because if people believe you are very difficult to break into, then they are likely to explore easier targets and leave you alone. But if criminals believe you are vulnerable, and if you have something they want, then they are more likely to commit the resources necessary to penetrate your security to get it.
Right now, Android is perceived as vulnerable, but BlackBerry isn’t. So the association of the two brands on the Android platform should make potential buyers more comfortable with Android security.
As a side note, one of the dangers of embracing Android apps is that the perception of poor security likely moves with those apps, which is likely part of the reason BlackBerry is going through Amazon, which has a better reputation, than Google for app compatibility on BlackBerry phones.
The Reality of Android + BlackBerry
While you can’t fully address a platform or company security shortcoming through third-party offerings, you can certainly improve the security of the platform. BlackBerry is basically wrapping Android with a series of technologies that improve device management, secure messaging and other communications, and provide a separation between home and work activities.
These address a broad cross-section of concerns if used in conjunction with strong enforced security policies like blocking side loading and actively scanning for infected hardware before letting it on local networks. Certainly, messaging using BlackBerry’s tools will be more secure, but the product will likely still have to have an anti-virus offering from a security firm to allow Android to become a more trusted client in the enterprise. Fortunately, tools from companies like McAfee can provide these solutions.
However, the long-term benefit of BlackBerry collaborating with Google on Android is the high probability that, over time, some of the security concepts and learnings will pass from BlackBerry to Google. The end result should be better practices during the development of Android, strengthening the platform further.
This kind of collaboration does increase the likelihood of other collaborations and maybe even a merger, but collaborating with Google could give BlackBerry both a financial boost and a stronger sustaining business, and collaborating with BlackBerry should give Google a stronger sense of why security is important. Both companies may develop new ideas about other areas they could collaborate in, as well.
Wrapping Up: Making Android More Viable in the Enterprise
While this collaboration doesn’t fix Google’s security problem completely with Android, it does potentially reduce it significantly and, tied to a long-term stronger focus on security, it could turn Google and Android into a better enterprise player. For BlackBerry, this gives it increased stature, a broader reach, a showcase for its tools, and a better overall prognosis. Depending on where this goes, it potentially gives both companies additional future options.
In the end, though, if you have to use Android, it’d be wise to wrap it with BlackBerry tools and reliable security software because we live in a hostile world and you need all the security you can get.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+