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Is the BlackBerry really more secure than the iPhone? (+video)

POTUS revealed he is still tapping away on a BlackBerry, due to security reasons. How does the phone stack up?

The troubled mobile phone maker BlackBerry still has at least one very loyal customer: US President Barack Obama. At a meeting with youth to promote his landmark healthcare law, Obama said he is not allowed to have Apple's smart phone, the iPhone, for "security reasons," though he still uses Apple's tablet computer, the iPad. Obama fought to keep his BlackBerry after coming to the White House in 2009, though he said only 10 people have his personal email address.
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Though the iPhone has cornered over 25 percent of the US cell phone market, Apple is missing one key customer: the President of the United States.

“For security reasons, I am not allowed to have an iPhone,” quipped President Barack Obama at a recent youth summit while talking about healthcare, but he does have a BlackBerry according to a CNBC report from 2009. 

Though his reason for the admittance was to explain how he wasn’t aware of the financial constraints that may come with the popular smart phone, the comment raised concerns among an increasingly security-sensitive population. How much more secure is a BlackBerry, really, than an iPhone?

CIO.com columnist Rob Enderle writes that older phones, like many BlackBerry models, were originally meant for businesses, which made them no frills and extra protected.

“Those old smartphones devices were secure (they had to be, since they contained business data), functional (the Palm Treo was pretty ugly, but it had amazing battery life), and robust (a drop that will crack an iPhone screen did little, if any, damage to one of those old devices),” he writes.

Graham Cluley, a tech security blogger, adds that smart phones often have GPS trackers (probably not good for a hacker to be able to track the President’s every move), and even the most basic of apps will tap into your location offering more ways to keep track of where someone is.

“That’s why you need to be really careful about what apps you allow to record your location, and where they might share that information,” he writes.

The BlackBerry hardware is also more compatible with specific encryption software, unlike the iPhones’ one-iOS-fits-all approach.

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Take the German government’s new experimentation with BlackBerry Z10s. According to the German Interior Ministry, it is the only phone that has not been unencrypted by any foreign intelligence agencies, due to specially developed software that is not compatible with iPhones.

“It's based on the Secusmart Security Card, a micro SD card with an integrated SmartCard chip,” writes Hans-Christoph Quelle CEO of Secusmart, the software company that designed the encryption, according to investing website SeekingAlpha.com. “This miniature crypto-processor takes care of the encryption of voice and data communication within the mobile phone including authenticating calling parties. Its 128-bit AES encryption enables 340 sextillion different keys-imagine 36 zeros after the number 340.”

In other words?

“Theoretically, it would take 149 billion years to crack this code based on today's technical standards, even with the use of special computers,” he explains.

The Department of Defense seems to agree with German sentiment. According to Defense Tech, out of the 600,000 mobile devices the military uses, 470,000 of those are BlackBerry devices, while only 41,000 are Apple devices and 8,700 are Android-based devices.

POTUS almost didn’t have a phone at all—according to the CNBC interview, Obama said “I'm still clinging to my BlackBerry. They're going to pry it out of my hands.” Eventually he did win the battle, but not without concessions: his phone only has 10 contacts, and officials have declined to discuss what the encryption on the phone entails.

And this level of security isn't reserved for POTUS: Secusmart announced it would sell the secure chip-equipped BlackBerry to the public. The price for keeping your phone at global security levels? $3,132.


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