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BlackBerry meets smart cards

A new security device for the BlackBerry handheld may make losing or misplacing one less of a nightmare.

Research in Motion (RIM), which makes the wireless gadget, announced its BlackBerry smart card reader this week. The device can be clipped to a purse or a belt and uses Bluetooth wireless technology and high-level security encryption standards (AES-256) to help authenticate a user.

The BlackBerry owner simply slips his or her smart card into the wearable add-on hardware; presses in a PIN code or password and off they go.

This is particularly good news for companies and organizations that use both smart cards and BlackBerry handhelds such as the U.S. government. The U.S. Department of Justice and the US Department of Agriculture are huge BlackBerry users. RIM said its subscriber based pushed past the 3 million mark thanks to the addition of 592,000 new members in the last three months.

Already, the peripheral meets some government guidelines. For example, the reader is FIPS 140-2 (Federal Information Processing Standards) approved and supports a variety of smart cards including the U.S. Department of Defense's Common Access Card. The smart card reader also supports government-approved secure e-mail (S/MIME) and can be used in conjunction with RIM's latest server-based support software.

RIM said it is now working with strategic consulting firm SRA International to make sure the hardware attachment fits within further government-approved guidelines.

It's not the only time RIM has worked on improving its security for business and government use. Earlier this year, the company announced plans to extend Avaya's secure enterprise communications software to the BlackBerry handheld over wireless local area networks, or WLAN.

The Smart Card Reader is getting its first field tests this month, the company said. No word yet on an official release date.