Remember the time when a BlackBerry was THE phone to have and everyone from Paris Hilton to Barack Obama had one?
Then came the slow downward spiral and after steady losses for a decade, BlackBerry's mobile business was sold off. BlackBerry has now shrugged off its previous avatar, that of a handset manufacturer and risen from its ashes as a major player in the automotive security business.
"Auto is a market where real money can be made right now", John Chen, CEO BlackBerry, told a small group of journalists with great confidence, at the Blackberry Security Summit in London.
And the BlackBerry product that is going to make the 'real money' for the company is QNX. From infotainment systems in cars to in-flight entertainment and QNX-based telematics systems that automatically call for help in a crash, it is here to make BlackBerry a force to be reckoned with, again. And the company couldn't have picked a better time for it. In the latest budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond brought in sweeping changes to how self-driving cars can be tested and approved. He ruled that driverless cars will now be allowed to be tested without any human operator inside or outside the car, and without the legal constraints and rules that apply in many other EU nations, and much of the US.
John Chen, CEO BlackBerry told me recently at their security conference that they are focussing on design wins at the moment: "We have a little more than half of the market. For the last few years we have been branching out because the infotainment business has been getting saturated. We have now 12 different modules including driver-to-driver comms, over-the-air as well as infotainment and to us it is a very big thing because that’s where QNX is focussing on and 70 percent of our business is, anyway, from automotive.
"Auto is a market where real money can be made right now.
Given by the level of investment promised by the government, Chen is right. While £40 million has been set aside for research and development into electric and autonomous cars, there's £540 million is being invested in electric cars and electric car charging points.
Although it is a far cry from the £1 billion that had been asked to be set aside, at least the government is taking notice! But to get any technology that doesn't use humans to work seamlessly, the ability for it to be controlled remotely is imperative and that's where 5G network development and implementation comes in.
"We have no choice but to embrace 5G because one of the major thing about autonomous driving cars is the continuous availability of telematics. 4G is usually 80-90 percent adequate, but you need 5G for a car to be continuously connected.
And while BlackBerry are leaving no stone unturned in their pursuit for greatness in the automotive security industry,also giving out warnings about not taking vehicle security too lightly. In fact, just after the Autumn Budget announcement, they suggested that secure software is the new seatbelt.
The need for secure software must be a core requirement, not a feature or afterthought. Safety and security are inseparable, and as such, governments, car manufacturers, industry bodies, and cybersecurity experts need to actively work together to create a holistic framework to address the risks that autonomous vehicles face both now and in the future.
With millions of lines of software code, today’s connected cars offer malicious hackers numerous attack vectors. The impact of such a cyberattack could range from traffic congestion and inconvenience to life-threatening danger to drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and innocent bystanders. Developing an effective security framework to combat these threats is a challenging but necessary step towards making autonomous vehicles a reality.
And BlackBerry have good cybersecurity currency with QNX! "Because QNX is a micro kernel implementation of Linux, it is highly tested and one of the most secure. QNX technology is driving the Johnson Space Centre operations. We don’t provide this because we don’t want that to be an enticement for people to break into our systems, but thats the fact.
"BlackBerry has a uniqueness that no other mobile phone maker has. We are the most secure and this is a mobile first company. 30 years back, we made pagers and we own cryptology companies as well as have the most secure Knox software. So we enough to compete and I am not worried about competition. We are first in mobile security and we can be a good partner to other companies including IBM.
"QNX is an embedded operating system, we build mobile application on top of QNX. In a car or any other device, these can be embedded into it. And to top it, Blackberry have showed off their key steps for securing automotive network at their security summit recently. The seven steps, or pillars, as they call them, are:
- Secure the supply chain: Establish a root of trust by ensuring every chip and electronic control unit (ECU) in the automobile can be properly authenticated and loaded with trusted software, irrespective of vendor or manufacturer. Scan all software deployed for compliance to standards and required security posture. Conduct regular evaluations of the supply chain from a vulnerability and penetration testing perspective to ensure they are certified and “approved for delivery.”
- Use trusted components: Create a security architecture that is deeply layered in a defense in depth architecture, with secure hardware, software, and applications.
- Employ isolation and trusted messaging: Use an electronic system architecture that isolates safety critical and non-safety critical ECUs and can also “run-safe” when anomalies are detected. Additionally, ensure all communication between the electronics in the automobile and the external world are trusted and secure. Further, ECU-to-ECU communication needs to be trusted and secure.
- Conduct in-field health checks: Ensure all ECUs have integrated analytics and diagnostics software that can capture events, and are able to log and report the same to a cloud-based tool for further analysis and to initiate preventative actions. Moreover, automakers should confirm that a defined set of metrics can be scanned regularly when the car is in the field, as well as be able to take actions to address issues via secure over-the-air (OTA) software updates.
- Create a rapid incident response network: Share common vulnerabilities and exposures among a network of subscribing enterprises so expert teams can learn from each other and provide advisories and fixes in shorter time frames.
- Use a lifecycle management system: Proactively re-flash a vehicle with secure OTA software updates as soon as an issue is detected. Manage security credentials via active certificate management. Deploy unified endpoint policy management to manage applications downloaded over the lifetime of the car.
- Make safety and security a part of the culture: Ensure every organization involved in supplying auto electronics is trained in functional safety and security best practices to inculcate this culture within the organisation.
"We are the best mobile security solution. Analysts, partner, customer thinks so. We are a mobile-first company. We know mobility and own cryptology company and have KNOX that the US government uses. We have enough to compete and I am not worried about competition, and we are no. 1 in mobile accessibility.
And so what's in store in 2018 for BlackBerry?
"I have to start growing the company. I think we have done good by going down the software and services business route, but we need to continue growing it.
"This is because the old revenue, activation fees and handsets revenue continue to come down, like next year there will be no handset revenue because we sold the remaining inventories. We are done! We have told the analysts that they can expect our revenue from that stream to become zero from the handsets side. But the royalty, they will give us a royalty from the sale. So in 2018 we will get to the point where we see the revenue to start growing from the right channels."