BlackBerry’s new BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system has failed to gain advanced security clearance for use by the UK government.
According to a report by the Guardian, BB10 has not achieved classification from the Communications-Electronics Security Group (CESG), the UK government’s national technical authority for information assurance, because there is a potential data leak in the new BlackBerry Balance technology.
Balance is a secure container mobile application manager included on the new OS that separates work and personal accounts in order to prevent data from being copied between the two accounts.
The previous version of the OS, BlackBerry 7.1, received classification up to the level of “Restricted” communications, which is two levels below the highest level of security, “Secret”.
BlackBerry have hit back against the claims about why BB10 failed, telling Mobile Europe they are “false and misleading” because the CESG is re-structuring its approval process.
However, they would not comment specifically on the potential Balance vulnerability.
“BlackBerry has a long-established relationship with CESG and we remain the only mobile solution approved for use at ‘Restricted’ when configured in accordance with CESG guidelines. This level of approval only comes following a process which is rigorous and absolutely necessary given the highly confidential nature of the communications being transmitted,” said a spokesperson.
“The current re-structuring of this approval process, due to the Government Protective Marking Scheme review and the new CESG Commercial Product Assurance scheme has an impact on the timeline for BlackBerry 10 to receive a similar level of approval.”
The spokesperson added that BB10 has been certified by the US government and selected by the German Procurement Office and Federal Office for Information Security.
“[This] underlines how our new platform continues to set the standard for government communications… we’re confident that BB10 will only strengthen our position as the mobile solution of choice for the UK government.”
The UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) confirmed that discussions with BlackBerry are “ongoing” about the use of BB10 in Government.
“We have not yet performed a security evaluation of that platform, but we expect to be issuing Platform Guidance in the summer, this will cover a number of platforms including BB10 (and using Balance),” said a GCHQ spokesperson.
“We have a strong security partnership with BlackBerry and this gives us confidence that BlackBerry 10 is likely to represent a viable solution for UK Government.”
Informa analyst Malik Saadi feels that the security fears have been blown completely out of proportion.
“As long as you are sandboxing on software like Balance, which everyone is doing, you will always have vulnerabilities. There is no single OS that is immune to attacks, which is why hackers exploit these vulnerabilities,” he told Mobile Europe.
“When BlackBerry was criticised during the outages last year, it was clear evidence to me that they should upgrade to a new operating system and get away from BlackBerry 7. From the framework, I think BB10 is far more secure than BB7.”
Saadi added that the QNX kernel of BB10 is the main OS being used by NASA.
Last week, BlackBerry announced that one of its customers had asked for a corporate order of one million BlackBerry Z10 devices.
Saafi said BlackBerry has had more devices shipped in the first three months since the OS was launched than any other device manufacturer.
“It’s easy to speculate about BlackBerry doing badly, but talking to Phones4U, Carphone Warehouse and O2, early sales for the BlackBerry Z10 have been really good. The prediction I’m expecting from distributors is to be well above one million. The performance of Z10 and Q10 is key, but early performance within the last quarter has been promising, although whether BlackBerry can become the third eco system is still yet to be seen.”
The Apple iPhone 5 shipped just under one million units in the first three months of its release, while the latest Android OS 4.2 Jellybean shipped 450,000 units and Windows Phone shipped 250,000 units.