President Barack Obama will keep using a BlackBerry for e-mails, protected with a special encryption package created by government spooks, probably the National Security Agency, according to Marc Ambinder, a political blogger with The Atlantic.
In a brief post late Wednesday morning, Ambinder writes that a standard BlackBerry (but apparently not Obama's current personal device) has been outfitted with a "super-encryption package." Obama will use it for "routine and personal messages." He, along with White House staff, will not be using instant messaging, Ambinder writes.
Ambinder doesn't cite any sources for this. And his post raises a number of still-unresolved questions, some of which Network World examined earlier this week.
The BlackBerry device is in essence a wireless window and keyboard into an existing e-mail system, such as Microsoft Exchange, on which the user has an account. The BlackBerry device, in tandem with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server software, is really just a convenient way to access a "real" e-mail system, such as whichever one is used by White House staffers.
So, the more interesting question may be not "Can he use his BlackBerry?" but "What e-mail address is he using?"
The drawbacks of public officials using Internet-based mail services, such as GoogleMail, were dramatically revealed last fall when Republican vice-presidential candidate, and Alaska governor, Sarah Palin's Yahoo account was hacked, and its contents posted online. Besides the privacy violation, the incident was controversial because Palin was accused of using a "personal" e-mail account to communicate about government business.
Ambinder writes that United States government BlackBerries aren't cleared to protect messages above the status of "SECRET." As Cisco Security blogger Jamey Heary explains in his dissection of BlackBerry security issues: "[T]his brings me to my main premise for denying Obama the use of his BlackBerry device. The BlackBerry network is too public. Their vulnerabilities are published publicly, their SDKs are public, their devices are public, parts of their code is public, their RIM network is public, their software is public, anyone who pays $100 is allowed to obtain a RIM key to sign their code, exploit code to attack the multiple vulnerabilities in BlackBerry is public, etc. etc. etc."
But that doesn't stop numerous U.S. and foreign government agencies using the devices for communications classed either SECRET or SENSITIVE. BlackBerry maker Research in Motion points to a string of security certifications for the BlackBerry system, and notes the U.S. Department of Defense is one of its biggest customers.