Security pros aren't stained by BlackBerry tiff

A BlackBerry blackout would have been tough for on-the-go e-mail addicts, but it was never a security concern, if a survey of IT professionals is any indication.

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Updated Wednesday, March 8 to correct the name of a vendor. One of the IT professionals interviewed is quoted as saying he uses Goodmail. In fact, he uses Good Technology.

Mobile e-mail addicts were no doubt relieved when BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) settled its patent dispute with NTP Inc. last week. But from a security perspective, IT professionals say the dispute was never really on their radar screen.

As the RIM/NTP saga came to a head in court, SearchSecurity.com asked IT professionals if they rely on their BlackBerry or any other mobile e-mail device to stay abreast of security alerts from vendors or fellow IT staffers. Most said they don't.

"To me, any security professional should have a variety of tools at their disposal to receive security alerts and maintain a state of current security knowledge, so any one of them going dark shouldn't cause a state of emergency," Bryan Sowell, authentication services engineer for a large Fortune 500 company, said in an e-mail exchange.

Friday, Waterloo, Ont.-based RIM announced it would give NTP $612.5 million cash "in full and final settlement of all claims against RIM, as well as for a perpetual, fully-paid up license going forward." The settlement, announced late Friday, came nearly five years into a vexing court battle in which Virginia-based NTP claimed RIM stole its patents to create its widely popular and often addictive BlackBerry mobile push e-mail platform.

BlackBerry 7100 series

RIM's BlackBerry 7100 series smartphone, one of many devices no longer in jeopardy
(c) RIM Ltd.

As part of the settlement, NTP gave RIM an "unfettered right to continue its business," RIM said. It also allows RIM and its partners to continue selling BlackBerry products and services completely free from any future claims by NTP.

Shortly before the settlement was announced, SearchSecurity.com asked readers in an online poll, "Should an injunction shut down service to Research In Motion's BlackBerry handheld devices, would it present serious security-related problems for your organization?"

Thirty-five percent of respondents answered, "yes, definitely" and 5% answered, "yes, possibly." Fifty percent said no while 10% said they weren't sure.

None of those reached by phone or e-mail had any security concerns. Brad Bourland, IT director for the Houston Astros, said his enterprise had looked into using BlackBerry but ultimately went with the e-mail services of a top RIM rival, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Good Technology.

"Last year we leaned toward BlackBerry out of familiarity, if nothing else," Bourland said in a telephone interview. "But we chose Good Technology and this patent business made it an easier decision. We saw no reason to play with fire" by choosing BlackBerry.

In the end, he said, security was never the main motivator for adopting wireless e-mail devices. Enterprise employees are spread out and Bourland said a tool that gives them the ability to "link up" was worth pursuing.

"Media relations is an example of what motivated us," he said. "They travel a lot with the team. To have access to e-mail while in the airport or in a cab gives them a lot more connection. That's it more than the security, though security alerts via e-mail are certainly helpful."

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Charlie Burton, senior technical analyst for Centennial, Colo.-based Cendant Corp.'s travel distribution services division, said his boss and other co-workers use BlackBerrys. But that use is similar to that of Bourland's enterprise.

"It's driven more for the business and political need for contact, not for crises," Burton said in an e-mail exchange. "Within our organization, I don't see the threat of a BlackBerry shutdown as causing a security issue. It would have been an inconvenience for many in our company, as many have become quite dependent on them."

Burton said he would probably use a BlackBerry if he felt it added value to the security effort. But "in a world with relatively easy Internet access for more in-depth information, and with pagers or cell phones which can receive time-critical alerts, I see little benefit in adding one more layer of communication," he said. "In a global organization, I'd be receiving communications throughout the day and night, creating more of a 'cry wolf' situation."

Richard May, IT administrator for a California-based healthcare equipment maker, said the patent saga never presented a security concern for his enterprise, either. His company hasn't given him a BlackBerry, but he's getting through life just fine without one.

"I'm pretty well connected thanks to broadband at home and work, as well as an SMS-capable cell-phone," he said via e-mail. "I read many of the trade weeklies and I always blow right past Blackberry patent dispute articles. Blackberries aren't even on my radar."

SearchNetworking.com News Writer Andrew R. Hickey contributed to this report.

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