U.S. Air Force Tightens BlackBerry Security

New security regulations to be implemented within the Air Force limit the BlackBerry features and apps staffers can employ.

The U.S. Air Force will soon implement new, stricter rules and regulations for the use of Air-Force-issued BlackBerry smartphones, according to a report on the official Air Force website.

ALBlackBerry with padlock and U.S. Air Force logo

"Just as physical security measures at forward and stateside bases are constantly being improved to meet current threats, so also are cyber protection measures taken to protect DoD (Department of Defense) information," said Maj. Gen. Richard Webber, 24th Air Force commander, in the report.

The changes come via the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), and they are to be overseen by the 24th Air Force, the "operational warfighting organization responsible for defending Air Force network operations." The new rules are expected to go into effect this month and are as follows:

  • Users will no longer have the capability to send or receive text messages with attached photos or videos. Text-only messaging will remain enabled.
  • If a device is being synched and its software is out-of-date, a "Force Load" message will appear. The user will only have one opportunity to decline updating the software. Any subsequent syncing attempts will render the device inoperative until the software is updated.
  • Users will not be able to download additional applications to their devices over the Internet.
  • Most Bluetooth functionality will be disabled. The only Bluetooth feature that will continue to function will be linking the device to the smart card reader cradle.
  • Users will no longer be able to connect their smart card reader cradle to their computers.

None of these new regulations are very surprising. In fact, many organizations that probably don't need nearly the same level of security as the Air Force already block the installation of third-party apps. Blocking texts with media-attached is also a bit of a "no-brainer," since malicious code or other potentially-harmful exploits can be easily embedded in images, etc.

What is interesting is that the Air Force will practically lock down Bluetooth, allowing users to employ the wireless technology only for security-specific reasons, via RIM's BlackBerry Smart Card Reader or similar products. (The BlackBerry Smart Card Reader is a small, thin-plastic security card reader that attaches to a lanyard and employs Bluetooth to grants users' proximity-based access to specific machines and systems. )

That means no hands-free calls while driving or Bluetooth file-sharing, among other things.

I can't help but wonder whether these new changes are in response to some sort of security-scare or whether the Air Force is just attempting to proactively address potential threats. It will also be interesting to see how many other U.S. government agencies follow suit and bolster their own BlackBerry- and smartphone-security policies—especially since we've seen a few high-profile security scares in recent days.

Learn how you can reduce BlackBerry-related security risks by reading my BlackBerry security user-best-practices.


Air Force Public Affairs via Wired.com

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