I’m in New York this week on a whirlwind tour of vendors. I began this week with HP and its amazing Spectre Folio, then with Microsoft, which refreshed the Surface line, and I fell in love with the new headphones (seriously, they were amazing). But the event I’ve been looking forward to is the BlackBerry Security Summit. John Chen, BlackBerry’s CEO, is one of the most interesting CEOs to watch because he speaks his mind, and I’ve always thought he’d be fun to work for or with.
The other reason I look forward to this is that BlackBerry takes security seriously and lives where most of us live, on our smartphones. Given that our smartphones are increasingly our wallets, our security tokens, and what defines and protects our identities, having a firm that understands that we need to secure the things makes me sleep easier. Smartphones were really our first intelligent IoT devices and taking that core skill set successfully, as a standard, to other devices, I believe, will be critical to our safety and security, in our homes and places of work, long term.
As we move to an ever more intelligent world, I believe, there is nothing more important than making sure the new connected world doesn’t become homicidal. The best, first, priority shouldn’t be intelligence but security. I watched all the Terminator movies and I don’t want to live in that world.
These are my thoughts on Chen’s keynote.
Spark is BlackBerry’s secure platform designed for the Enterprise of Things. This is an end-to-end solution running from the device to the control fabric. There are a lot of elements to this, largely because the enterprise of things is very amorphous. The devices range from things that are intelligent, like medical equipment, to really stupid, like sensors, which only do one thing well.
BlackBerry’s goal is to become the standard for communications between devices. Having BlackBerry do this, rather than any other firm, isn’t just about focus, it is about location. BlackBerry is based in Canada, not in the U.S. or China, two regions both powerful in tech, but both with governments that don’t do personal privacy well and have a history of misusing power to spy on citizens. The U.S. in particular isn’t renowned for effectively using or securing this kind of data, creating open-ended risks for those of us who live in the U.S. but for themselves, as well. There is a reason most politicians still use BlackBerry phones. (By the way, I carry the new Key2.)
One of the interesting things BlackBerry is developing is Quantum Resistant Code. It is believed that a true Quantum computer, because it is so massively parallel and fast, could break any non-quantum encryption in seconds and the only defense would be something that had a comparable level of processing power behind it. That defense is Quantum Resistant Code, and developing that is a high priority at BlackBerry.
Another concern is how these new digital assistants, like the Amazon Echo (which has taken over my home), are monitoring us in our homes. Chen spoke about a project with Amazon to help secure and assure this class of device. Amazon is dominant in the segment, but if customers are damaged at scale by the devices being hacked, the litigation and regulatory costs would be crippling, not to mention the damage to the brand. Amazon has smartly prioritized securing the things. I think we all realize that while these initially started in the home, they will mature to become less of a toy and more a front end for workflow. To do that, they need to be better secured, and Amazon rightly turned to BlackBerry for help in making that happen. Apparently, Amazon is here and will be speaking later on bridging consumer technology like the Amazon Echo to the enterprise. Yes, it won’t be long until you are talking to something in your cubicle. (I’ll bet those sound-deadening headphones I mentioned at the top from Microsoft are suddenly sounding interesting.)
Efficiency and Security of Assets
The BlackBerry Radar Hub is a container tracking technology that is being moved to trucks and planes in order to maximize their efficient use and to better secure the asset and what it contains or is carrying. This is pretty amazing stuff because with a relatively inexpensive device, truck owners can offset the massive shortage of drivers by more efficiently managing truck and trailer assets as well as what they are carrying.
Chen went on to talk about blockchain tied to secure and assure medical information. Initial effort is focused on children. In a related announcement, BlackBerry is working with MacKenzie Innovation Institute to revolutionize health care.
Virginia Tech University is working with BlackBerry QNX, arguably the most secure operating system in market at scale (this is what is used in nuclear power plants), to expand their curriculum for the future. This is important because with AI, IoT, and increasingly autonomous machines, we need to be aggressively addressing security requirements up front. If we don’t want even a limited Terminator moment where these things are turned against us, making sure the things are secure should be a top priority.
Things got particularly scary after Chen left the stage. For instance, did you know that in Australia, they focus on shark attacks because sharks kill about around 18 folks a year, but nearly 300 people die from drowning, and the really scary thing is around 2,000 die from skin cancer. Our priorities continue to be wrong. The free flow of information can help reset them but if that information isn’t secure, our priorities could be even worse. And did you know the third most deadly thing is medical error? Not a disease, drunk driver, or gun — it is being killed by our own doctors.
I mentioned Terminators before, but did you know that today, soldiers are often deployed by computers and if someone hacked those computers, these soldiers could be turned against their own countries? This all showcases the critical need to secure our information flows. If we don’t, a successful attack could be terminal. We talk about being fined, or sued, but we don’t talk that much about being killed which, to me, should be higher on our list of concerns after watching these presentations.
Wrapping Up: Real Life Scarier than Fiction
Chen is a ton of fun to watch and generally I enjoy his keynotes. This year, he scared the hell out of me and that wasn’t easy, given that I’d watched both Alien vs. Predator and Monster Squad the night before (I like fun scary movies, sue me). We really do need to take security more seriously and rethink our priorities in general because scary movies are a ton more fun to watch than live in. Chenn and his team did a nice job convincing me of the risk (actually overshot a bit as now I want to hide, whimpering under my bed), and on the solutions the company and its partners are developing. Let’s just hope enough folks adopt them before we start thinking about movies like Terminator as accurate predictors of the future.
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+