PlayBook Tops in Tablet Security

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Beyond the flood of iPad and Android-based devices is BlackBerry’s PlayBook, but for those who put the highest primacy on security there may be only one choice.

“The BlackBerry DNA has always been rooted in security,” said Brian Reed, CMO at security firm BoxTone.

Right from the start, the Waterloo, Canada-based company set out to engineer products that would win users in niches with a focus on security and privacy such as government and healthcare and, said Reed, that heritage is plain in the PlayBook. “The security on PlayBook is good out of the gate. It definitely passes the security muster for most enterprises.”

“In their tablets, we see the distinctive roots of the companies that created them,” added Hongwen Zhang, CEO of security firm Wedge Networks. “With the PlayBook, Research in Motion has definitely put security above convenience.”

An iPad dazzles right out of the box. PlayBook takes much more and considerable familiarization before it can be coaxed into doing much that is useful or engaging.  Thus the “universally tepid reviews,” as analyst John Jackson, vice president of research at CCS Insight read the initial press write-ups of PlayBook.

But those reviews may have missed the point, which is RIM’s supremacy in security as five fast facts about PlayBook reveal:

No. 1 - At the heart of the PlayBook is RIM software called Bridge that links a handheld BlackBerry with the PlayBook and, say the experts, Bridge is a large security step forward for tablets.

“RIM has solved a lot of IT’s security worries with PlayBook with the bridging software,” said Alex Moazed, CEO of apps developer Applico. 

Key is that Bridge only puts on the PlayBook the vetted and protected email, contacts and calendar from a paired BlackBerry device. When the BlueTooth connection is severed, that content on the PlayBook vanishes.  Thus the email on PlayBook is exactly as secure as the email on BlackBerry, which is plenty secure for almost all organizations.


It may even be more secure because if lost, a BlackBerry will have some of that content on it (at least until IT wipes the device).  PlayBooks won’t because the BlueTooth leash will have snapped and Bridge doesn’t leave persistent, plain text data trails on PlayBook.

No. 2 - BlackBerry App World is malware free.

“I have not heard of any malware downloaded from the RIM site,” said BoxTone’s Reed.

Probably the first and often the loudest criticism of PlayBook is the lack of apps to run on it.  Pickings are indeed slender. But RIM has promised to beef up the offerings with a mix of native apps and others ported over from Android. Are the latter safe? Even though Google’s Marketplace often is classified as the wild west of downloads, Reed is confident “there will be continued diligence. The content will continue to be safe.”

That is, RIM will screen Android apps before serving them up to PlayBook and, said Reed, there is ample reason to be confident RIM will sift out bad actors.

No. 3 - The PlayBook operating system, QNX OS, is “built to be secure,” said Reed.  Apple’s iOS and variants of Google’s Android are mobile phone operating systems tweaked to run tablets.  Not so RIM’s QNX, which is an industrial-grade operating system with a track record of running critical services such as air traffic control systems. RIM bought QNX in April 2010 with the intent of acquiring an operating system that satisfies the most nervous.  It does exactly that. “QNX is incredibly secure,” summed up Reed.

No. 4 - BlackBerry Balance tools up the ante in the ongoing tension between a user’s personal content on a mobile device and business content. Basically, Balance erects a de facto firewall between business content and personal on a device and the pay-offs are multiple.

When BlackBerry Balance is installed in an enterprise, IT will be able to wipe only business content from RIM devices when the user leaves the organization. Personal content will not be touched. These tools will also work with PlayBook, said RIM, and that means the user won’t lose personal videos, photos, email accounts and the like in the case of a wipe.

This is a clever tool that maintains organizational security but without raising the ire of users.

No. 5 - What other tablet has a 32-page security manual? RIM has issued such a document for PlayBook and it makes for fascinating reading. Everything from man-in-the-middle attacks through brute-force attacks have been anticipated and, said RIM, it’s designed the PlayBook to safely dodge all manner of assaults. 

Sort through the PlayBook security story and one conclusion jumps out: “PlayBook really is the most secure tablet,” said Zhang.

Now, if only it ran Angry Birds!

As a busy freelance writer for more than 30 years, Rob McGarvey has written over 1,500 articles for many of the nation's leading publications -- from Reader's Digest to Playboy and from the NY Times to Harvard Business Review. McGarvey covers CEOs, business, high tech, human resources, real estate, and the energy sector. A particular specialty is advertorial sections for many top outlets including the New York Times, Crain's New York and Fortune Magazine.