John Chen: Messages from the BlackBerry Keynote

Rob Enderle

I’m at the BlackBerry annual Security Summit event in New York and this is a real treat for me. BlackBerry’s CEO, John Chen, is one of the more entertaining CEOs out there and, like me, he works best largely unscripted, which adds to the entertainment factor and the unusual facial expressions that his communications team has during his talk. I’m going to cover what he says in real time and add my own commentary as I go.

Cost of Cyber Attacks

From 2016 to 2021, the cost of cyberattacks is expected to increase from $400B to $6T, as the attack surface area increases from $6.4B to $46B. In the last 12 months, we have had WannaCry with a $4B impact, Petya hit 65 countries, Equifax hurt 143M (but estimate is everyone in the U.S. now), and these are only the top exploits.

I don’t think many fully grasp just how bad things are, let alone how bad they are likely to become. With moves into smart cities (like the one Bill Gates is building in Arizona), to smart cars, to human-carrying drones, and ever smarter autonomous weapons systems, the exposures to cyberattack have and continue to expand massively.

BlackBerry Centric

Over the last few years, BlackBerry has changed greatly. From a company that was focused mostly on secure smartphones and communication, it has pivoted to a cross-platform mobile security provider. It has developed for synergistic siloes, enterprise, embedded, pro services and licensing. It has developed a comprehensive platform that encompasses the network, communications, embedded platforms, unified endpoint management and applications.

All three of the major research companies rate BlackBerry number one now in terms of mobile device management. Thus, software and services efforts are growing 75 percent in enterprise channels, 25 percent in BlackBerry Solutions channels, and 44 percent in the enterprise apps marketplace. In a turnaround, you focus primarily on the growth areas for the firm as the company races to ensure that by the time the legacy revenues collapse, the new revenue areas make up the revenue and profit difference. I think most would now agree that BlackBerry has turned the corner, though impressions of what the company was still surround the firm, showcasing how hard it is to change perceptions. BlackBerry still has 8M BlackBerry phone users.

BlackBerry has enjoyed record software and service revenue, record gross margins, and non-GAAP operating profit.

Hardware


BlackBerry is largely out of the hardware manufacturing business, at least regarding smartphones, but continues to license to others that build BlackBerry phones. However, it has entered hardware deals for IoT efforts, mostly as components for other more complex products to ensure their security.

Placing BlackBerry Back on the Top

In response to a question on how to make BlackBerry become dominant again, Chen responded that the firm is looking to be the security heart for solutions coming to market that fall into the “smart” category. Given that many of these products have started out as relatively unsecure, this focus should represent a massive revenue opportunity. The anticipated breaches and losses in these categories are expected to be equally massive and drive revenue to BlackBerry. While they are generally operating in developed markets, they plan to move initially into developing markets though partners.

Super Secure Communications

Chen touched on a super secure communications product that is marketed to governments and indicated that this offering remains very popular and growing. Given how often governments are compromised, I’d be surprised if this solution didn’t move more aggressively out of government and to governments that don’t now use it. Chen was circumspect about the nature of these, but government-level protection from what is now clearly a ramp-up of government-related attacks would seem to be an increasingly popular option for cloud services looking to provide secure communications at scale.

The Unsecure Smart Car

After Chen left the stage, next came an interesting showcase of a smart car, and the presenters spoke to the fact that in a few decades, we went from having nearly no intelligence or connectivity to cars with hundreds of millions of lines of code, potential exploits in about one line out of 10,000 on average, massive number of sensors, and more individual computers in each car than most would imagine. It isn’t just cars; planes (especially airliners), ships and other vehicles have also had similar advancements and exploding potential exploits. Worse, right now, it is almost impossible to update these systems, which means those that can’t be updated, or updated in a timely manner, will become more unsecure over time.

The demonstration was using an electronic key fob. They showcased that very cheap technology (under $500) and open source software can capture fob codes in a parking lot and then unlock your car while you are away. The demonstrators showcased that they could hack the GPS code and reroute your navigation by making your car think it was someplace else. This could be massively problematic with autonomous cars. Given that law enforcement uses GPS data for evidence, the ability to attack that data and make a car appear to be someplace else could either protect the guilty or convict the innocent.

Wrapping Up: Pay Attention BlackBerry’s Focus on Security

BlackBerry and Chen have come a long way since he has been running the firm. They continue to focus on security problems that are not only critical today but could reach even more pronounced crisis levels in the future. Whether you choose to use BlackBerry’s solutions or not, you should likely follow them because the kinds of things they are fixing will help you properly prioritize the classes of system that are mostly likely to be breached.

 

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+


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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Nov 15, 2017 12:37 AM BB Shareholder BB Shareholder  says:
from John Chen: expect nothing, because you will get nothing. After four years shareholders are still being left behind since the CEO of a public company does not care about his fiduciary duties towards shareholders. John Chen only cares for himself and Prem Watsa`s financial well being Reply

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