Pentagon approval of iOS and Samsung KNOX clouds BlackBerry's future

Credit: Michael Baird via Flickr

BlackBerry's latest piece of good news, that the Pentagon had certified the company's new BlackBerry 10 OS for use on Department of Defense (DOD) networks, comes with some bad news for the troubled smartphone maker. Similar approvals are expected to be issued for Samsung and Apple devices.

The approvals for Samsung's Galaxy devices and Apple's iOS devices aren't a surprise. DOD ordered hundreds of thousands of the devices for internal testing earlier this year as part of a program to diversify the devices used by employees. Many will likely be introduced into pilot programs with specific departments once certified.

The move is part of Samsung's push to out-BlackBerry the BlackBerry when it comes to security. Samsung's SAFE program, which supports the new Samsung Galaxy S4 as well as previous generations of Samsung devices (including the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note 2) offers a robust range of 300+ security policies that IT can enforce using mobile management solutions from a variety of vendors. That puts it league the security capabilities of and management approach that originally made the BlackBerry a popular with IT departments throughout the federal government.

The Galaxy S4 will offer even more security through Samsung's KNOX platform, which will be rolled out once the company finishes additional testing. The Galaxy S4 actually runs a versions of Android developed by the NSA known as Secure Android. It's one of several layers of security that Samsung has built into the device. The Wall Street Journal reports that Samsung may be planning to market a ruggedized version of the Galaxy S4 to defense customers in the U.S. and other countries.

In its effort to expand into the high security government niche, one that BlackBerry has enjoyed near singular control of for years, Samsung recently created a government advisory board made up of Samsung executives and security experts from various U.S. and foreign government security agencies including NSA and the U.K.'s British National Technical Authority for Information Assurance (a telecommunications security agency) as well as representatives from Canada, Australia, France and Germany. At the group's first meeting, it announced plans for the ruggedized Galaxy 4 model tentatively named Galaxy 4 Active.

It's worth noting that BlackBerry 10 has reportedly received FIPS 140-2 certification. iOS 6 is expected to receive the same certification. FIPS certification is a broad certification related to technologies that implement cryptographic security measures like connecting securely using a VPN or storing data in an encrypted form on a device or PC. It can impact support for a device within civilian federal agencies as well as DOD. It will allow the devices to be used by military agencies for nonclassified communications, such as email and Web browsing.

In addition to receiving FIPS certification, the devices will also be added to the department's Security Technical Implementation Guide (STIG). Currently the only platform of the three listed on DOD's STIG site is iOS 6 though previous versions of Android related to a Dell device and the original BlackBerry OS are listed. Accounts of which platforms have been fully certified or are pending certification varies across reports from the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and Reuters. All three sources do confirm, however, that iOS 6, BlackBerry 10, and Samsung devices running KNOX will be certified for use throughout DOD in short order. It is possible that the added security features of KNOX might allow Samsung devices to be used to access more sensitive content.

In the end, the program will likely elevate that status of both Apple and Samsung within military and civilian government agencies in the U.S. and other western countries. That will likely act as an endorsement of security capabilities and benefit both companies. Often government security approval carries significant weight in industries like law and finance, where mobile devices users access sensitive and confidential content on a daily basis. The approvals are a bit of a mixed bag for BlackBerry, however. The company's new devices are certified, which could be critical for its survival, but it is no longer a single dominating for in defense and government agencies.

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