BlackBerry wants to make the internet of things safe for you

Exclusive: Known for its smartphone, the company will license mobile tech to makers of smart home devices.

Laura Hautala Former Senior Writer
Laura wrote about e-commerce and Amazon, and she occasionally covered cool science topics. Previously, she broke down cybersecurity and privacy issues for CNET readers. Laura is based in Tacoma, Washington, and was into sourdough before the pandemic.
Expertise E-commerce | Amazon | Earned wage access | Online marketplaces | Direct to consumer | Unions | Labor and employment | Supply chain | Cybersecurity | Privacy | Stalkerware | Hacking Credentials
  • 2022 Eddie Award for a single article in consumer technology
Laura Hautala
3 min read
Getty Images

In case you missed it, smart home devices are vulnerable to hackers.

Experts have been warning us for years that smart devices aren't so smart when it comes to security, showing us how easily a car, a doll or a security camera could be hacked. And hackers have done their best to prove the cybersecurity experts right -- from yelling at a baby through an internet-connected baby monitor to using vulnerable security camera systems to cripple the web's infrastructure.

BlackBerry is betting we've had enough and are ready to spend a little extra on safer products.

Yes, that BlackBerry.


On Sunday, the smartphone maker launched three products designed to make internet-connected devices more secure from hacking. It plans to license the products to companies making internet-of-things devices like smart light bulbs, refrigerators and TVs as well as devices used in factories. Products that've integrated the BlackBerry tech will bill themselves as BlackBerry Secure.

It's part of BlackBerry's strategy of emphasizing mobile technology that others license, moving away from smartphone manufacturing. Its goal: to get you to think of BlackBerry as a seal of approval for your device's security.

"2019 will be the year consumers will begin to vote with their wallets and seek out products that promise a higher level of security and data privacy," Alex Thurber, BlackBerry's senior vice president and manager of Mobility Solutions, said in a statement.

One of those products is a cryptographic key that makers of smart home devices insert on a microprocessor when they're manufacturing their gadgets. Hacking the chip alters the key and causes the device to stop working.

BlackBerry is also releasing software that stops unapproved code from running on a device. That could prevent things like the 2016 Mirai attack, when hackers conscripted hordes of internet-connected devices like home routers and security cameras into a botnet to bring down a critical internet server.

There's also a management service for devices used in factory or corporate settings. It's designed to let companies keep tighter control of the information stored on devices and set rules on when devices are allowed to communicate with protocols like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

BlackBerry isn't alone in trying to make it easier for manufacturers to build a safer internet of things. In April, Microsoft introduced the Azure Sphere microchips that let companies install secure chips and software on connected devices. Amazon and Google each offer services to help secure connected devices. Google has Android for IoT and Amazon has AWS IoT.

The timing could be right for BlackBerry and its partners. Consumers may finally be eager to seek out safer products, after months of data privacy scandals involving Facebook and Google in 2018 and the massive Equifax breach the year before.

"Everyone looked at BlackBerry as the most secure phone you could buy," said Jack Gold, a principal at J. Gold Associates, which analyzes the IoT market. "They would like to leverage that label into the internet of things world."

BlackBerry's strategy is more likely to succeed with things like cars and health care devices, Gold said, where the stakes are higher if a hack occurs. But with inexpensive home products, he said, customers could be turned off if the added security tacks too much onto the price tag.

For his part, Thurber thinks it's time for all companies, not just BlackBerry, to make the internet of things more secure. The potential for damage, even from a connected security camera, is too great.

"We can't just say it's the price of doing business," he said.

CES 2019: See all of CNET's coverage of the year's biggest tech show.

CES schedule: It's six days of jam-packed events. Here's what to expect.