President Obama’s BlackBerry survives assault from Korean Androids

Contrary to reports late last week, the BlackBerry smartphones used by  White House staffers and the President are not to be replaced by Android or Windows Phone handsets from Korean manufacturers LG and Samsung.

The Wall Street Journal, quoting unnamed insiders, suggested that while Obama’s own BlackBerry was not under threat, but that smartphones from LG and Samsung were being tested for ‘internal use’. The news story caused a dip in BlackBerry’s stock price – the White House is one of the company’s most high-profile customers.

Few smartphones are as iconic as President Barack Obama’s faithful BlackBerry –  he was pictured with it so often during his 2008 Presidential campaign that the New York Times estimated that the “celebrity endorsement” could be worth up to $50 million to the company.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said, according to a report by ABC News, that no change was imminent, but that the White House Communications Agency was testing devices for “other areas of the administration.” The WHCA describses itself as “a one-of-a-kind military unit dedicated to providing premier, worldwide, vital information services and communications support to the president and his staff.”

President Obama was informed that he would have to give up his BlackBerry on taking office, but came to an agreement with intelligence agencies.

Silicon Beat reports that a BlackBerry spokesperson wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal denying that the White House was considering a move away from BlackBerry handsets. Barbara Tate wrote, “Governments test new technologies frequently, but nevertheless the U.S. government continues to choose BlackBerry for its unmatched security and cost effectiveness. Other vendors such as Samsung and LG still have a long way to go to catch up to meet the government’s stringent requirements and certifications. BlackBerry’s operating system has already received the highest security approvals from the United States, Great Britain and NATO, and our latest operating system, BlackBerry 10, is already certified for high-security users in various NATO countries.”

Both Samsung and LG recently unveiled security software for their higher-end Android handsets, but reports from sites such as The Register suggested that upcoming Windows phones from the companies could be adopted instead by U.S. government agencies. The site reports that Windows Phone handsets recently overtook Android handsets in sales figures in the United States.

Venture Beat reports that BlackBerry, and its new CEO John Chen, are making efforts to ensure that their handsets retain their reputation for security – and their impressive list of state clients. Chen inaugurated a ‘security innovation’ center for the company this year, located in Washington DC. Chen said at the time, “We are committed to working with government and industry experts to solve some of the biggest challenges we face in securing mobile communication The Washington, D.C.-based security innovation center will be focused on creating lasting partnerships that will encourage ongoing dialogue aimed at making better products and policy.”

ESET malware researcher Cameron Camp wrote an in-depth breakdown of the security features of BlackBerry’s new BB10 operating system, concluding, “While there are a myriad of external (and internal factors) that may control the trajectory of the BB 10 operating system and its handsets’ future adoption, the security stance seems like a good start. While the winds of the market forces will blow where they may, it’s good to know a company like this had the foresight to revamp the whole stack in a thoughtful, security-focused way, and the guts to go for it.”

Author Rob Waugh, We Live Security

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