BlackBerry delves deeper into security with AtHoc purchase

BlackBerry continues to shift its focus from selling mobile phones to securing portable devices


BlackBerry continues to shift its focus from selling mobile phones to securing them -- as well as other portable devices, and increasingly connected items that are part of the Internet of things.

"All of our investments and acquisitions go to one thing, to make the most secure mobile platform that the industry has to offer," said John Chen, BlackBerry executive chairman and CEO, kicking off a morning of presentations at the company-sponsored BlackBerry Security Summit, held Thursday in New York.

BlackBerry still sells handsets, but, to judge from the day's presentations, it clearly sees a brighter future now in enterprise mobile security, where it can best leverage its remaining strengths in the market.

On Wednesday, the company announced it is planning to purchase the Waterloo, Ontario-based AtHoc, which provides a software platform for sending out alert messages to smart phones and other digital devices.

BlackBerry's AtHoc purchase -- financial terms were undisclosed -- is one of a number of the company has made in the last year to bulk up its security-related software and services. Last year, it purchased SecuSmart, which offered services to encrypt telephone messages.

In April, BlackBerry purchased WatchDox, which offered software to securely share documents across multiple devices.

Thus far, AtHoc has found considerable success in the U.S. market. Its alerts can reach over three million U.S. government personnel, chiefly in the Defense Department and Department of Homeland Security.

BlackBerry plans to roll the AtHoc technology into its own global BlackBerry Messaging service (BBN), offering its customers the capabilities worldwide, said Marty Beard, BlackBerry chief operating officer. Thus far, AtHoc's own coverage been largely limited to the U.S.

The AtHoc technology could be used to send out alerts about extreme weather conditions, potentially disruptive events or other vital information. The U.S. Transportation Security Agency uses the technology in airports, for instance, to notify TSA officers when a person of suspicious intent has been identified.

Since the launch of the iPhone in 2007, BlackBerry has lost a considerable chunk of the handset market, as more feature-friendly Android devices and iPhones caught the attention of consumers and business.

When Chen took the helm in November 2013, he focused on the company's strong expertise in securing phones, a by-product of BlackBerry's aggressive pursuit of the government market as well as the market for businesses that require highly secure communications.

The company has since extended BBN to support Android, iOS and mobile Windows devices as well, freeing potential customers from purchasing BlackBerry gear and offering a single platform to manage the security of multiple devices.

The company also plans to move into the rapidly growing Internet of things market, an area that is in dire need of security, said David Kleidermacher, BlackBerry chief security officer, during his presentation.

For the summit, the company demonstrated how easy it is to hack into an infusion pump, a medical device that can deliver morphine or other medications to an ailing patient.

On stage, BlackBerry researcher Graham Murphy walked through the process of gaining entry to the pump, which had an Ethernet port and an onboard computer. Using the device's default password, easily discoverable on the Internet, he was able to break into the machine and upload a program that could override the existing software.

The market for machine-to-machine technologies and services will top $4.3 trillion by 2024, the company estimated.

"As connectivity increases, the needs for security and privacy exponentially increase," Beard said. "As we get into the Internet of things, the real value will come from the data connectivity and the application connectivity."

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