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BlackBerry says its new Digital Workplace eliminates need for VPN, VDI

BlackBerry has unveiled its Digital Workplace platform, a web portal and workspace for secure online and offline access to corporate on-premise or cloud content,  including Microsoft Office 365 resources.

Digital Workplace, announced last week, integrates a secure browser-based workspace sold by Awingu, a Belgium company that penned a partnership with BlackBerry in 2018. Businesses can access their legacy Windows, Linux, SaaS or internal web apps, desktops and files inside of Awingu’s secure managed browser. Awingu’s unified workspace runs Windows, Linux, web and intranet apps.

Based on BlackBerry’s Zero Trust Architecture, Digital Workplace eliminates the need for a VPN or VDI infrastructures and is designed to provide continuous threat protection using artificial intelligence and machine learning to enable users to securely work anywhere and from any device, according to BlackBerry.

Zero trust is an enterprise security architecture or network where there is never a “default trust” option that automatically authorizes end-users or systems; instead it requires a form of verification for any attempt to access business systems.

The system relies on multifactor authentication, analytics, encryption and file system-level permissions and includes dynamic enforcement of access rules – not only for a user’s identity but also for their device and the context in which they’re attempting access. The result is that users are given the minimum amount of access to accomplish a specific task.

blackberry zero trust BlackBerry

“We break everything down to an actor, an action and a target. So who am I, what device am I trying to do, over what network am I trying to do it, and based on analytics should I have more or less friction for what I’m trying to do?” said Alex Willis, BlackBerry’s vice president of sales engineering. “Friction could be multiple forms of authentication, or block access.”

Awingu’s browser was available prior to Digital Workplace through BlackBerry UEM and as part of its BlackBerry Access mobile browser offering. Digital Workforce also incorporates BlackBerry’s own Desktop management platform as well as AI-driven security software from Cylance, a company acquired by BlackBerry about a year ago.

“[It’s] not just Awingu, but all the connectivity through either the email calendar contacts applications within Digital Workplace as well as BlackBerry Access Browser” Willis said. “So, the access browser is connecting to the BlackBerry infrastructure just like our applications would on your iPhone or Android device. So, we’re facilitating the secure connectivity behind the firewall. The user doesn’t know if it’s going through a VPN. All they know is they start the browser and get to their corporate internet.”

For auditing purposes, IT admins can also video record every end-user for their entire session or when they access a specific application, Willis added.

In some ways, BlackBerry’s Digital Workplace is something of a re-packaging/licensing announcement instead of a set of new products, as the capabilities and partnership with Awingu are all things BlackBerry has had for a while, according according to Chris Silva, a vice president of research at Gartner.

While other vendors such as VMware and Citrix offer unified workspace solutions, BlackBerry is “somewhat unique” among other unified endpoint management (UEM) providers in that most of its customers are using an explicit container. That means end-users are relying on BlackBerry’s UEM app to access email, contacts and calendars, versus the native apps, according to Silva.

“They’re also the only vendor with a container that can be consumed on desktop and mobile,” Silva said via email. “Addressing the Windows app issue was of great importance to keep competing in the UEM market, especially as VMware and Citrix both now offer licenses that include both UEM and their virtualization technology.”

Through its Awingu partnership, BlackBerry’s browser-based access capabilities are a unique variant to VDI, according to Nick McQuire, a senior vice president of research at UK-based CCS Insight.

“By integrating this, it gives BlackBerry more options to upsell customers on new use cases, especially on the desktop,” McQuire said via email.

More importantly, McQuire said, the Digital Workspace implements some key BlackBerry components in security, too, such as Cylance and its secure network.

“This enables BlackBerry to apply conditional access policies to the workplace application such as through machine learning, determining whether the device has malware before allowing user access or whether the user is displaying risky behavior,” McQuire said. “Conditional Access is now becoming a key tenet in a zero trust security model which, although [it] is a massive buzzword now in security, is starting to gain ground with IT pros – at least conceptually.”

ConvergeOne, a Bloomington, Minn. IT services provider, deployed BlackBerry Digital Workplace last year. ConvergeOne’s employees are issued corporate laptops – a total of about 3,000 endpoints. For traditional email, calendaring and access to a global address list, the company was allowing Active Sync connections for personal devices to the Microsoft Exchange environment, enforcing corporate policy on the entire device.

ConvergeOne’s employees are highly mobile and up to 75% of ConvergeOne’s end-users rarely set foot in corporate office. The company had been hindered by the traditional security stack, interfering with workers’ mobility and ability to deliver to ConvergeOne’s clients, according to Collin Buechler, the company’s information security and compliance officer.

“Some of these hinderances included client networks blocking VPN to ConvergeOne, device failures while on the road, and the rigidity of the traditional security stack of security controls,” Buechler said via email. “[BlackBerry] Access only needs an outbound internet connection to work, the solution does all the rest.

“With BlackBerry Digital Workforce we can have a team member back up and running on any compatible solution within about 10 minutes if their laptop is stolen or blue screens right before a client presentation,” Buechler added.

With the inclusion of Digital Rights Management on documents sent to clients or outside of the ConvergedOne, Digital Workspace enables better compliance with requirements in NIST, ISO and FARs in terms of knowing where the data is and who has accessed it, Buechler said.

“ConvergeOne can retroactively disable this access if necessary, or if the document was acquired nefariously, it is encrypted with government-grade encryption and is useless to any nefarious types that may get access to the file,” Buechler said.

BlackBerry’s marriage of UEM and security is part of a nascent industry trend, and further evidence of BlackBerry’s “seismic shift” in direction towards enterprise software and security over the past five years, according to McQuire.

“The UEM space is heading in multiple directions, but we see competition coalescing at the moment at the intersection of UEM, security – particularly mobile security – and identity,” McQuire said. “As a result we are seeing more of these wider workspace offerings as customers are looking to the market to not only secure all of their devices, but also their data, which means tighter security around the user and the applications employees use daily.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Could Google carry the BlackBerry torch?

Let me just clear something up right off the bat here: No, you haven’t entered some weird sort of virtual time warp. And no, this isn’t a mislabeled column from the early 2000s.

This is a genuine, current statement: The era of the BlackBerry phone has ended. Yes, again.

In case you hadn’t heard (and it’d be an easy story to have missed — or to have assumed was errantly being resurfaced from the past), the company responsible for making BlackBerry phones has announced it is stepping away from the effort and will create no more devices with that iconic name attached.

Now, the story isn’t quite what it seems on the surface. The company in question isn’t actually BlackBerry itself. Nope — that company, the entity once known as Research in Motion, hasn’t been making hardware since 2016.

That same year, a company called TCL took over the act as part of a licensing deal in which it’d produce, sell, and support phones under the BlackBerry brand, with Android at the devices’ core and BlackBerry itself providing the supplementary software and services. (TCL had similar arrangements with Alcatel and Palm, too — so, yeah: It’s kind of like the mobile-tech equivalent of a really convincing 90s cover band, only with far less flannel.) This week, TCL said that arrangement had expired.

Let’s be honest, though: BlackBerry, as a phone brand, had basically been on life support for a while. The Android-based BlackBerry phones of recent years were never especially exceptional, and for all the lingering fond feelings toward the name, it didn’t seem like many people were actually buying the devices. And that’s to say nothing of the brand’s dismal performance with delivering Android operating system updates — a harsh reality that was firmly at odds with its security-centric message (and is only likely to get worse for any remaining phone-owners now than the TCL partnership is kaput).

Still, if we think back a ways, there was a time when BlackBerry was synonymous with security-first, business-friendly smartphones — devices designed not for Snapchatting or WhatsApping but rather for serious professionals who wanted to get work done, use the best productivity services available, and know that their technology would always be maximally secure.

And that, when you really stop and think about it, is a role no other company has yet managed to fill.

I mean, sure: Samsung sells tons of phones, but its strengths lie in hardware — with a user experience that leaves something to be desired, an understandable position in which timely operating system updates (even with recent improvements) are simply not a top priority, and a data-selling side hustle that’s anything but in line with enterprise expectations.

Apple, meanwhile, plays up the security card when it’s convenient (ahem), but few would dispute that Google’s services are generally superior. Even critical reviews of Pixel phones tend to talk about how the devices are a delight to use because of their superlative software and the holistic, cohesive-feeling way in which they integrate Google’s best properties.

And therein lies the rub: Despite those foundational assets, every Pixel phone seems to have some asterisk attached to it that keeps it from earning a widespread, wholehearted recommendation. With no real exception, there’s always some big “but” attached: “It’s the best way to experience Android and Google services, but…” (insert each year’s reason for hesitation here).

When you talk about what made classic BlackBerry phones great, the themes you tend to hear about the most are their ease of use — enabled in large part as a result of having a single company simultaneously developing the operating system and the services around it — along with their focus on security and productivity above everything else. (There was also, of course, the hardware keyboard, but despite our collective nostalgia for such a physical feature, phone-makers insist that hardly anyone actually wants to buy devices that trade screen space or sleekness for a dedicated QWERTY surface.)

Well, guess what? Those are impossibly close to the same qualities that describe Google’s core strengths in its self-made smartphone efforts. Within Android, all other pros and cons aside, no other company comes close to the ease of use and the holistic environment Pixel phones create — where Google services blend seamlessly into the operating system instead of feeling awkwardly at odds with competing forces. No other Android-connected company has the incentive to make ongoing upgrades a priority at the level that Google does (and yes, those upgrades really do matter when it comes to areas like privacy and security).

And while Apple enjoys some of those advantages within its own ecosystem, Google-using iPhone owners grumble plenty about the headaches they endure and the hoops they have to jump through to make Google services an integral part of the iOS experience. It still isn’t the complete picture, at least not when Google services are involved.

If anyone could fill the void BlackBerry’s leaving behind — the void of a cohesive, complete mobile-tech experience with top-notch native services and an emphasis on both productivity and security — Google is arguably the company best positioned to do it. And considering that its selling point for the Pixel phone seems to be in a constant state of flux, a business-centric approach could provide the focus that product line needs to stand out from the pack and have a clear form of appeal for an average, non-enthusiast buyer.

All it’d take would be a pivot in marketing, an emphasis on the right elements, and a physical phone form without any significant shortcoming to distract from the message.

Simple as it seems, it’s a lot to ask. But no other company is so tantalizingly close to accomplishing it.

That being said, there is one other company setting its sights on a similarly smooth and cohesive business-aimed experience: Microsoft. With the promise Microsoft is showing in its early Android-repurposing efforts — and the company’s existing emphasis on productivity and security as priorities — it doesn’t seem like a huge leap to imagine Microsoft making a serious play for that de facto business phone title as the years progress.

For now, though, it’s Google’s race to lose. And at this point, it’s not entirely clear if it’s even on the track and competing.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Blackberry refreshes its UEM suite, focuses on zero-trust access

BlackBerry has unveiled several updates to its enterprise mobility security platform, offering three new UEM peoducts aimed at enabling secure access to tools, applications and files based on a zero-trust architecture.

The trio of new suites are add-ons to BlackBerry’s flagship Enterprise Mobility Suite, aimed at enhancing productivity, collaboration and workforce agility.

Zero trust is an enterprise security architecture or network where there is never a “default trust” option that automatically trusts people or systems; instead it requires a form of verification for any attempt to access business systems.

Zero trust relies on multifactor authentication, analytics, encryption and file system-level permissions; it includes dynamic enforcement of access rules, not only for a user’s identity but also for their device and the context in which they’re attempting access. The result is that users are given the minimum amount of access to accomplish a specific task.

The new BlackBerry Secure UEM & Productivity Suites come in three versions.

The Choice Suite allows IT admins to manage all devices and apps, across platforms and device ownership models. The single platform streamlines device management and simplifies IT and end user experiences, according to BlackBerry.

The Freedom Suite allows users to improve mobility with collaboration applications, app customization and enterprise-grade security.

“Building on capabilities included in the Choice Suite, the Freedom Suite offers Mobile Content Management (MCM), Identity and Access Management (IAM), and the ability for users to access files in Microsoft mobility apps,” Blackberry said in a statement. It also includes development tools to add security, mobility and platform features to custom apps, regardless of how developers build them.

The Limitless Suite offers Digital Rights Management (DRM) for file protection, expanding on on the Choice and Freedom Suites with multi-channel notification capabilities and a secure content collaboration platform.

BlackBerry provides multi-OS management, so the UEM software can be used to manage different devices and platforms, including iOS, Android, Windows 10, macOS and Chrome OS.

“BlackBerry phones would be just one type of device we can manage, but it’s much broader,” a company spokesperson said via email.

While research firm Gartner sees BlackBerry in the company of other UEM vendors such as Microsoft, VMware and MobileIron, it is no longer a competitive player in the handset market, according to Jack Gold, principal analyst with J. Gold Associates.

“Their entire effort in the past couple of years has been around mobile software, specifically around UEM and the QNX OS primarily targeted at automotive (and a few other [software] assets they have),” Gold said via email. “As a standalone UEM [vendor], BlackBerry is comparable to many others in the market.”

Where BlackBerry has moved ahead of other UEM rivals is in security, having bought Cylance – an AI security offering – earlier this year.

“They are now porting those AI security features to the mobile device world from their previously PC-centric offering,” Gold said. “They are also moving in a workspaces direction as they offer secured on-device access through secured browsers and [Office] 365 type access.”

Multi-platform management a growing trend

Enterprise IT and operations leaders responsible for mobile and endpoint strategy must evaluate new capabilities along with UEM tools’ ability to perform modern management of PCs and management of mobile devices, according to Gartner’s 2019 UEM Magic Quadrant report.

The adoption of Windows 10, Google Chrome OS and Apple’s macOS will drive the need for a combined endpoint management console in greater than 70% of organizations by 2024, Gartner said.

BlackBerry Enterprise BRIDGE and Microsoft Graph API support provides flexibility to Office 365 organizations in how those apps are managed and integrated into business workflows, according to Gartner.

Although Citrix and VMware are moving much more aggressively toward a modern-workspaces approach that is more than just UEM, and exceed them in a security-enabled product, BlackBerry does have an attractive offering, “particularly for high security industries,” such as government, financial services and healthcare and “they compete very well there with Mobile Iron, Citrix, VMware,” and others in the UEM space, Gold said.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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RIP BBM: BlackBerry Messenger Shuts Down

BlackBerry Messenger is no more. The long-lived and once-popular messaging service just couldn’t compete in a word filled with Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, and all of the other messaging apps consumers can choose to use instead. RIP BBM.

BlackBerry Messenger Is No More

Emtek, which acquired the licensing rights to BlackBerry Messenger, has shut BBM down for good. The company made the decision in April 2019, and finally shut BBM down for good on May 31, 2019. This leaves the last remaining users seeking alternatives.

On the BBM Blog, the company opined that “in spite of our substantial efforts, users have moved on to other platforms, while new users proved difficult to sign on.” Therefore, “the time has come to sunset the BBM consumer service, and for us to move on.”

While many modern smartphone users will wonder what the fuss is about, BBM launched in 2005 at a time when most people were still using SMS. And BlackBerry Messenger introduced many of the features we now take for granted when using messaging apps.

What has specifically shut down is BBM Consumer. However, BBM Enterprise (BBMe) is still very much alive, and available on Android and iOS (as well as Windows and Mac). What’s more, BlackBerry Messenger will continue to work on BB10 and BBOS devices.

Download: BBM Enterprise for Android and iOS

BBM Was the Pioneer of Messaging Apps

While some people will be genuinely disappointed to lose access to BBM, most of that will be based on nostalgia. However, the rest of us should remember how BlackBerry Messenger “helped shape messenger platforms to become what they are today.”

If you’re a former BBM user now searching for a new messaging app, there’s always WhatsApp. Or, if you refuse to use WhatsApp, here are the best WhatsApp alternatives

4 Slick WhatsApp Alternatives that Guard Your Privacy

4 Slick WhatsApp Alternatives that Guard Your Privacy

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. None of which will engender those same feelings BBM did back in the day.

Image Credit: Maurizio Pesce/Flickr

Explore more about: BlackBerry, Instant Messaging.

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