Making BlackBerries Safer Relies on Users First

Carl Weinschenk

The Toronto Star describes an application that has been filed with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office by Research In Motion for technology that will add an extra layer of security to its BlackBerry device.


The idea is simple: Users of the service will carry their BlackBerries in a holster equipped with a transceiver. At a set time after the device is removed, the holster automatically will send a message asking the device to report in. If the user doesn't respond with a secret code, the BlackBerry becomes an expensive paper weight.


Clearly, it's a good idea to disable or wipe data from a mobile device that may have fallen into the wrong hands. The piece doesn't have any comment from RIM, but it appears that the technique is along the same lines as LoJack for Laptops and other services that seek to track the well being of portable devices.


The plan raises some questions. The biggest problem in mobile security -- or security of any type, for that matter -- is whether or not users cooperate. It will be interesting to see how much involvement is required by the BlackBerry owner. Can he or she just turn it off, or can IT somehow compel them to use the system?


Suppose, for instance, the signal is sent to the user, who is embroiled in a sales pitch and doesn't respond. The machine turns off. How long will it take to get the BlackBerry back into operation?


Another problem is the gap between when the device is unholstered and when the authorization messages are exchanged. If the feature becomes common, it's a certainty that crooks will do their dirty work quickly.


The folks at RIM are very smart, so it's quite possible that these issues have been dealt with. The bigger point remains: No matter what level of security is provided to a computing device -- stationary or mobile -- the user is the variable that determines if it is safe or not.

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