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BlackBerry Unveils Security-focused DTEK50 Android Smartphone

BlackBerry Makes Pitch for BYOD Market With DTEK50 

BlackBerry Makes Pitch for BYOD Market With DTEK50 

The consumerist nature of BYOD has been a problem for BlackBerry. As employee power has grown, BlackBerry has been squeezed by the cachet of Apple and the economy of Android. Users largely rejected its tiny manual keypad, preferring the larger screen and larger screen-based keypad of its competitors. Its reputation for security has not been enough.

Now the company has launched a new mobile phone based on Android. The DTEK50 is not BlackBerry’s first Android phone (that was the Priv); but this one is built to an existing third-party design model (TCL’s Alcatel Idol 4). This helps to keep the cost down: the DTEK50 will cost around $300 compared to the Priv’s $700. BlackBerry security remains front and center; but the price makes it attractive for consumer-based BYOD — and losing the manual keypad makes it more acceptable to today’s mass market.

Officially announced on Tuesday, BlackBerry is calling the DTEK50 ‘the world’s most secure Android Smartphone’. It comes with Android Marshmallow 6.0 underwritten by BlackBerry’s security experience. For example, FIPS 140-2 compliant full disk encryption protects everything, from personal and family photos to business-critical information. BlackBerry has also hardened the operating system with its own security patches: improved random number, address space generation and certificate pinning to make it more difficult for attackers to target a device by scrambling application/system memory.

BlackBerry DTEK50 Smartphone

The DTEK for BlackBerry app is perhaps the most visible security feature: it monitors the OS and installed apps and notifies the user if it detects any suspicious activity. It warns if someone is taking videos or pictures, using the microphone, sending texts, or accessing contacts or location without the user’s knowledge.

– Hardware Root of Trust and Secure Boot Process –

The security goes deep into the system. The manufacturing process builds security from the base — a hardware root of trust, allowing for tracking, verification and provisioning of the phone. It includes a secure boot process, building up from that root of trust. Each stage of the boot chain verifies the next component before proceeding. Overall, this ensures that nothing and no-one has tampered with the device since the last restart.

Full integration with BlackBerry’s EMM applications, including WatchDox secure productivity sharing, SecuSUITE for Enterprise for secure voice and instant messaging, Strong Authentication as a VPN solution and more will make the device attractive for business.

For most commentators, one of Android’s weakest links is the tardiness with which some manufacturers apply security patches, leaving users exposed to known vulnerabilities. Although Google issues monthly updates, it has little control over when or whether different manufacturers apply those patches. BlackBerry has sought to address this issue with a promise to deliver security patches on the same day as they are announced by Google.

Security, however, is only half the argument for the BYOD market. While corporates are swayed by such arguments, consumers still prefer functionality, appearance, features and cost. In basing the device on Android, BlackBerry is providing all the functionality of the world’s most popular phone. It includes two cameras — one at the front for the users’ all important selfies, and a higher resolution one at the back for more serious photography.

BYOD generally comes in two flavors: where the company provides devices for its users; and where the company tries to manage devices chosen and bought by its users. The combination of traditional BlackBerry levels of security with a cost level attractive to consumers – plus the functionality inherent in an Android device — combine to make the DTEK50 a serious option for both home and business users. That post-Snowden users are also increasingly concerned about personal privacy simply makes it more attractive.

DTEK50 is now available to pre-order in the US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and The Netherlands for $299.

Written By

Kevin Townsend is a Senior Contributor at SecurityWeek. He has been writing about high tech issues since before the birth of Microsoft. For the last 15 years he has specialized in information security; and has had many thousands of articles published in dozens of different magazines – from The Times and the Financial Times to current and long-gone computer magazines.

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