Blackberry joins Apple in gaining NSA approval for secure communications

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BlackBerry has received approval from the National Security Agency (NSA) to sell tools for securing phone calls and text messages to the United States government, with the Canadian smartphone producer joining Apple on the list of companies endorsed for federal government use.

The BlackBerry endorsement comes from the NSA’s National Information Assurance Partnership (NIAP), which reviews technology products sold to consumers and enterprise to see if they meet the security requirements for government usage, reports Reuters. This includes the encryption of calls and messages made between parties using the products, a function that prevents other parties, such as hackers and other countries, from eavesdropping potentially sensitive government communications.

One of the tools BlackBerry is now able to sell to US federal agencies is SecuSUITE for Government, software from the German encryption firm Secusmart owned by BlackBerry. SecuSUITE is a multi-platform service for iOS, Android, and Blackberry offering end-to-end encryption of calls and text messages, one which works regardless of the carrier or data connection used by participants.

BlackBerry acquired Secusmart and its technology in 2014, after the firm won a contract to secure Chancellor Angela Merkel’s smartphone, following claims by a former US intelligence contractor that the NSA had tapped the German leader’s communications. The following year, German prosecutors dropped the probe into the claims due to a lack of evidence.

While Germany remains its biggest customer, BlackBerry now lists government agencies in 20 countries in Europe, Latin America, southeast Asia, and Africa as SecuSUITE customers.

“Call tapping is happening at an alarming rate,” according to BlackBerry SVP and general manager of mobility solutions Alex Thurber. “In today’s connected world, restricting agency employees to only exchange classified information from the desk phone is no longer a viable option, but it could be the new reality if governments don’t start securing calls and texts from mobile devices.”

A number of Apple products are already endorsed by the NIAP, including iOS 9, iOS 9.3.5 with MDM (Mobile Device Management) Agent, and the iOS 9.2 VPN client. As of March 2017, both iOS 10.2 and the iOS 10 VPN client are undergoing evaluation by NIAP, and are likely to receive a similar stamp of approval in the future.

Apple’s iPhone has also been deemed secure enough for presidential communications, with President Donald Trump using the smartphone to post to his Twitter account.