Even if your next phone isn’t a BlackBerry, BlackBerry is hoping to have a presence on it. The company is beginning to license its security tech to third-party hardware companies to be put inside phones and other smart devices. Its first deal, announced in September, was for phones and involved the Chinese company NTD, and today BlackBerry is announcing a new deal with the Swiss company Punkt, known for its minimalist cellphone.
What Punkt will use BlackBerry’s tech for isn’t stated, but BlackBerry’s announcement suggests it’ll be used more broadly than just on phones, indicating it’ll likely end up on some sort of IoT device. Punkt doesn’t make all that many products — electronics-wise, it’s really just the one phone — so it’s not at all clear what we should expect.
BlackBerry stopped making its own hardware in 2016 and has since shifted over to a licensing business, where the company sells its branding and software and lets others handle the hardware. Last year’s BlackBerry KeyOne, for instance, was made by TCL.
This new licensing program, known as BlackBerry Secure, lets companies leverage BlackBerry’s security credentials without completely hiding their branding. So Punkt could, for instance, sell a Punkt-branded phone that simply says “BlackBerry Secure” at some point when it starts up.
As for whether consumers should get excited about BlackBerry’s security credentials in 2018, that question is a little more open. BlackBerry does have a good reputation for the security of its devices, but BlackBerry no longer makes its own operating system — instead, it’s trying to strengthen Android, which it doesn’t have complete control over. And other companies make similar claims about securing Android, so it’s hard to tell how much BlackBerry is doing that others aren’t.
To secure a phone, BlackBerry says it gets involved in the manufacturing process to sign and inject encrypted keys that allow the hardware and software to verify that it hasn’t been tampered with. The company says it has “hardened” the Linux Kernel that Android runs on top of and fully encrypts the system’s storage. The company has also been good about putting out monthly software updates, which is itself a big enough improvement. BlackBerry also includes pre-installed apps that are meant to help users monitor the security of their devices.