For Your Eyes Only: Third-Party Security Keeps BlackBerrys Private

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Call it gadget panic.

You've dialed your BlackBerry from your land-line phone 12 times already, hoping to hear that familiar chime, but only painful silence greets your ears.

It's not in your suit pocket — you've already checked there four times. It's not in your briefcase — duh.

Could you have left it at your daughter's dance recital yesterday? Impossible — your thumbs were drumming it the whole time.

Oh, BlackBerry, BlackBerry, where could you be? The anguish. The pain. The dirty look that's coming your way from the IT guy at work.

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The BlackBerry, Research In Motion's all-in-one e-mail reader/cell phone/PDA with a fervent following, has become an indispensable communication tool for many of its 16 million subscribers worldwide.

Yet when lost or compromised, a BlackBerry could present security and privacy issues, not to mention inconvenience, to its owner.

Even in regular use, there's little guarantee that someone's not spying on your e-mails, which, as any lawyer knows, are much more valuable to rivals, competitors and prosecutors than are voice conversations.

Fortunately, an entire industry has sprung up devoted to locking down your BlackBerry, both in cyberspace and physically — and, in a worst-case scenario, even allowing "self-destruction" of the device by remotely wiping out all its data.

Encrypted E-Mails

"Privacy matters are getting worse, not better," says Nathanael Lineham, founder and CEO of The Datalocking Company, a security-solutions firm based in Aliso Viejo, Calif. "[Companies] are being forced to go back and deal with these breaches."

Top-level executives who want to communicate via BlackBerry need to be assured that their co-workers, underlings and even those ubiquitous guys in IT, whose job includes monitoring such messages, aren't privy to confidential content, says Lineham.

Two executives, for instance, discussing possible layoffs could have their e-mails compromised or forwarded unsuspectingly. Eventually, that once-confidential message would prove damaging.

"I've personally seen e-mail that wasn't properly contained result in group firings and substantive litigation," says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "In government, e-mail can damage careers and do substantial damage to politicians."

But there's an obvious solution.

"Encrypted e-mail is a common way to secure it in transport," says Enderle. "Used with an adequate solution to securing the device, it would be part of a recommended approach towards adequate security over e-mail on devices like the BlackBerry or iPhone."

That's where security companies like Datalocking come in. One of many partners of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM), Datalocking offers services aimed at shoring up communication over the smartphone.

"I like the fact that I have the option to keep confidential information about a client or client matter confidential," says Maria Aramanda, attorney at the Aramanda & Panzarella law firm in Long Beach, N.Y., and a Datalocking customer.

"If clients were aware that their e-mails were not so secure and private," she adds, "they would want their attorneys to take the extra step to ensure that the attorney-client privilege extended to their e-mail communications."

At the center of Datalocking's solution, explains Lineham, is an encryption key based on PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) software, which locks down a communication pipe between two users.

In order for a reader to view an encrypted e-mail, he must plug in a special password in addition to his regular BlackBerry password; without it, the message is unreadable to cybervoyeurs.

Datalocking charges from $20 to $100 per user for the enterprise solution; the price varies with the amount of security provided.

The company also sells its own BlackBerrys bundled with its security suites and cellular service plans to individual users or companies that need them.

For the aspiring James Bonds among us, it even has a prepaid service allowing a user to pay up front without providing too much information.

Road Kill

But what if the BlackBerry itself vanishes?

RIM offers password-locking on the devices as a standard feature, but that won't stop professional spies or thieves.

Only last week, news broke that a top aide to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had had his BlackBerry stolen by a seductive woman whom he took to his hotel room after meeting her at a nightclub during an official trip to Shanghai.

That aide could have used the ultimate security solution Datalocking offers: "Kill My BlackBerry."

He would only have had to call a designated phone number, given a command and all the data on his BlackBerry would have been erased.

Datalocking also offers secure archiving on its own servers that restores data to replacement BlackBerrys. The British official wouldn't have lost anything, and his wily seducer wouldn't have gained.

Experts foresee more and more demand for handset security as the smartphone market explodes.

Enderle points out that the uber-trendy iPhone, which Apple is now pitching to business users, "doesn't offer the same level of security [as a BlackBerry], but third parties are expected to step in and fill this need over the next couple of years."

It's not only government officials and corporate high-flyers who need the security, says Lineham. Celebrities, sports figures and other assorted VIPs could benefit.

Celebutante Paris Hilton, for example, learned this in early 2005 when pranksters remotely hacked into her T-Mobile Sidekick PDA, changed her password and then posted her racy photos and other celebrities' unlisted phone numbers on the Internet.

Whatever the situation, the smartphone's user will sleep more soundly knowing his or her data's safe and sound and locked away from prying eyes.