BlackBerry Android: Security, Privacy, and Malware

We continue to be asked the same questions. Let’s try to answer them.

I am just coming off of the busiest week of my year. It’s a time where I essentially just disappear from my online world, and that’s precisely what I did again this year. I basically took the week off from UTB, and came back looking to jump back in. Unfortunately, I’m not really stumbling across any news of interest. We’re currently waiting for the next BlackBerry Android, and it looks beautiful. The iOS bunch are doing what the iOS bunch always do, and that’s guess and dream about the possibility of the next iPhone bringing features and functionality that the last one left out. And there is some new android malware out and about. Nothing new really.

I did however post about a couple of the new strains of android malware, and was met with the same questions and responses to the posts. People questioning if this would affect BlackBerry Android, and those that are still exclusively on BB10 stating that this couldn’t happen to BB10.

In my search for content for the site, I decided this would be a great time to address those questions once more.

Is BlackBerry Android as secure as BB10?

The obvious answer is no. It’s not. But it’s getting there. We need to look at BB10 for what it truly is. BB10 is the most secure mobile platform available to us, the consumer. There have been many pretenders to the throne, but BB10 owns this space now. The Blackphone fell, as did all others. BlackBerry holds more security certifications than any other mobile software company, and BB10 is the pinnacle of their security achievements in a mobile phone. For now.

In all honesty, I feel that it is this security that has hindered the success of BB10. I’ve heard developers state that it can be difficult to develop for BB10 due to the security. I believe that it is this focus on security and privacy that kept Facebook and it’s separate entities for developing for the platform. I have no proof of this, but I’d certainly bet that this is the case.

For some customers, this pinnacle of security is a necessity. They don’t care about apps, they don’t care about having an official Facebook or Instagram app. What they need is the ultimate in secure communications, and BlackBerry 10’s security is unmatched, as is the call quality, mobile email, and other PIM functions.

Other customers want those consumer facing qualities though. They want an official Facebook app, or they want to be able to immediately download whatever app their friends have on their phones without jumping through any extra hoops. Or perhaps, they simply want a device in which updates will bring consumer centric features instead of security features. For those customers, BlackBerry has brought their own version of Android. In a very short time, and on their first effort no less, BlackBerry has brought the market the most secure version of Android.

But is it equal to BB10? It really depends. If you are a customer with the utmost security needs, BlackBerry Android simply does not have all the security certifications of BlackBerry 10. However, if you are a consumer, who wants a secure phone, I’d argue that yes, BlackBerry Android is as secure as BlackBerry 10. Right now, for our needs. You see, BlackBerry Android has yet to be hacked. It has yet to be rooted. With a typical consumer’s needs, yes, it is just as secure.

I can almost hear some of our readers cursing me already.

How can it be as secure if it has the Google in it?

This is one of the most confused comments, which we get most often. First, we need to understand something, security and privacy are two distinctly different things. I like to look at it like this, device security is there to ensure that things don’t happen to your phone which you don’t want to happen. Privacy is something which we have complete control over.

BlackBerry on both Android and BB10 focuses on security to ensure that we are not getting hacked. We can feel safe knowing that hackers cannot easily get into our phones and take what they wish. In the case of Android, I believe BlackBerry is the only company which can make this a reality. BlackBerry is consistently the first second party manufacturer to release Google’s security updates. In the case of the Quadrooter exploit, BlackBerry actually beat Google with the security patch for the fourth vulnerability by almost a month. Add to this BlackBerry’s own root of trust and secure boot, and we have an operating system which hackers can simply not gain root access too. In other words, we’re secure.

Privacy is another matter. BlackBerry is ensuring that we are not losing information which we do not want to give away, however, users can determine their own privacy level. I use Facebook as my primary example when discussing this. Realistically, Facebook tends to be amongst the most popular apps out there. It seems you simply cannot have a successful device without a Facebook app. Indeed, we receive more comments about Facebook on BB10 than any other thing (with Facebook owned WhatsApp a close second). Facebook is also the biggest thief of your privacy. Facebook’s apps, from Instagram to WhatsApp, to Facebook Messenger, to the Facebook app itself, steals your information. Facebook tracks your physical location, scans not only your public messages but also your private messages, and is rumored to even be listening to you. Yet these are apps which people want, are quick to install, and tend to keep them even after you inform them of what these apps do. The fact of the matter is, user’s would be extremely upset if BlackBerry were to block these apps. Instead, user privacy is in the hands of the user.

The user determines which apps they will use, and which permissions they shall give. While BlackBerry gives the user control over their own privacy, they do ensure that BlackBerry users at least have the tools to guard themselves if they so choose. With the DTEK app, BlackBerry Android users can see exactly what apps are using what permissions to access what information. It’s a great tool, which no one else has.

But what of Google? You need to use Google on your Android phone?

Well, yes and no. Yes, you need a Gmail address as an ID to sign in and utilize Google Services such as the Google Play Store. However, you really don’t need to use that email address for anything other than a login. You are not required to use Google Maps or sign in to YouTube or even use Google Chrome. There are a multitude of third party apps available that can give you like services without going through Google.

But let’s be honest, we all know that the majority of BlackBerry 10 users that read and comment on these BlackBerry centric blogsites have installed Snap or Google Play Services on their phone. We know that Google Maps and Google Play were items which the community was begging for. I’d also be willing to bet that the majority of those that complain about the “Googles” when commenting on these sites have and use Gmail and YouTube accounts. And let’s be realistic, why would Google go to the trouble of collecting information off of your phone when that information is already there in their servers which house the services which we are using?

Sadly, Google has become a provider which offers services which most of us simply can’t do without in our daily routines. I don’t like it, and I hope it changes someday, but for now, I feel much safer using these services on my BlackBerry phone than I do on my home computer, and certainly safer than I would on any other manufacturer’s phone.

So does the Malware affect BlackBerry Android?

This is a tough one to answer, and truth be told, I don’t want to test it and find out. However, I would assume that some would, while others would not.

We need to recognize what malware is. It’s not really a hack. In reality is is nothing more than an app. It’s an app which does things which we don’t want. I divide these apps into two different categories. Malware which obtains root access, and malware which does not.

Malware that obtains root access is the scariest form of malware. This malware can have many different functions and attack in many different ways, but with root access it can really do anything. With root access, the malware has complete control of your phone and there is nothing that you can do about it. This malware, BlackBerry users are protected from. By making BlackBerry Android unrootable, we are safe from malware that requires and obtains root access.

The malware which does not gain root access, instead requires the user to grant the malware permissions. The malware uses these permissions to carry out it’s attacks. This is the malware I’m fairly certain we BlackBerry users could find ourselves victims of, if it’s a newer strain which hasn’t been addressed in current security updates.

Realistically though, a smart user should have nothing to worry about. This malware isn’t magically hacked in to your phone. No, the user must install it. The user must grant it permission. And users do this every day and find themselves victims. However, I tend to hold BlackBerry users in a higher regard. I tend to think that we will not just download apk’s from untrusted sites and spam emails. I tend to think that BlackBerry users look at what permissions are being asked for before pressing the accept button.

In conclusion…

If the user’s primary concern is secure communications, they can do no better than BlackBerry 10. If the user wishes to have a full consumer experience on a secure phone, they could do no better than BlackBerry Android. BlackBerry will ensure that the user is secure, no matter which platform they choose. Privacy is a choice, and BlackBerry gives it’s users the tools needed to make an informed choice. As for malware? Well, BlackBerry will protect the user from hacks, but BlackBerry really can’t protect the user from stupidity.



Founder & Owner of UTB Blogs. Former BlackBerry Elite. When I'm not talking or writing about BlackBerry, you'll find me using my BlackBerry.