BlackBerry, With Secusmart, Will Secure Voice Calls Like It Does Data

BlackBerry, with its acquisition of Secusmart and focus on four regulated markets, is quietly solidifying its position where it matters most.

BlackBerry John Chen

NEW YORK—BlackBerry, at a security event here July 29, announced its plans to acquire Secusmart, a German software company that specializes in anti-eavesdropping and high-security voice and data solutions.

"BlackBerry changes the way mobile workforces work, and now it will do the same with voice," Secusmart CEO Hans-Christoph Quelle said during the event.

Quelle explained that while mobile workers, particularly those traveling into what he politely called "unfriendly jurisdictions," take pains to set up VPNs and put other data-protecting measures in place, they'll then get on a call and talk freely. In such places, he said, "I can guarantee you that somebody is listening."

The days when eavesdropping required effort, time and money are over, he went on.

"Technology can understand spoken words. Computers make transcriptions on the fly. You can be sure that these exist. Voice needs to be protected. It's as important as protecting a PowerPoint or [other type of file]."

Quelle said that BlackBerry and Secusmart have created "the very best, secure smartphone in the world, and we want to get it into the hands of every president and chancellor."

There's no longer a need to gather in person for a sensitive meeting, or to find a secure landline to make a call, or to switch phones to tweet or use other social media. Government officials will have top-to-bottom secure devices—the voice component included—and so will enterprise workers.

"In the past, there was no good solution to protect voice," said Quelle. BlackBerry with Secusmart will change this."

A Hungrier BlackBerry

The Secusmart deal could be viewed as the epitome of the new BlackBerry under CEO John Chen. The brand repeatedly referred to by analysts as the industry standard in security is closing up the last wormhole to offer the absolutely most secure solution possible to the handful of regulated industries it's now focusing on most aggressively.

(BlackBerry is by no means turning away from the consumer market, Chen made clear, but it also understands where it needs "to anchor" its business.)

There's a perception that BlackBerry is out of the game, or that its niche focus amounts to a piece of pie too slim to take notice of. But the four security-driven markets BlackBerry intends to dominate—government, health care, financials and energy—account for roughly half of all IT spending, said Chen.

However, not even that is something he says without bravado. Chen's style seems to be to set up the pieces and let them speak for themselves.

Standing on stage, sharing news tidbits (BlackBerry Jakarta is now in more than 11 countries), offering advice (Audis are good cars), and finally grinning and admitting that he was killing time—to sync the timing of the announcement and the embargo's release—Chen cracked gentle jokes at Apple's expense.

As a bit of housekeeping, he noted, "All the plugs in the room are reserved for iPhones."

Mark Wilson, BlackBerry's new head of marketing, told eWEEK, "Sometimes we've been a little understated, in terms of the amazing work we do."

Chen has built a solid, new management team for BlackBerry, made up in good part from his teams at Sybase and SAP. The response from the new team members, as each one arrived, was the same each time, said Wilson: "'I had no idea there was this much here.' For us then," he continued, "it's, how do you get the word out around all of these amazing assets that we have, and how do they fit together? It's an end-to-end story that's incredibly compelling and completely unique."

At the event, there were signs of BlackBerry beginning to find its voice.

Two screens in the event space offered facts that made clear BlackBerry's current standing. For example, BlackBerry securely handles 35 petabytes of data per month, which is more than any other enterprise mobile management (EMM) vendor. Also, the governments of all seven G7 countries use BlackBerry, and so do five of the top 10 oil and gas companies.

BlackBerry's reputation‚ despite its crumbled handset empire, was perhaps best summed up, though, by Peter Lesser, director of global technology at the legal firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, a BlackBerry customer.

"The minute we say we support BlackBerry, the conversation is over," said Lesser, noting that he works with folks who thrive on drilling for information. "There's not another manufacturer that has reached this level of respect. Just saying 'BlackBerry' once answers just about every question they have."

Follow Michelle Maisto on Twitter.