It's no secret that BlackBerry has fallen out of favor with consumers. It was once the crown jewel of the smartphone market, but the advent of the touchscreen phone made the BlackBerry's devices -- which featured physical buttons -- look like fossils from a bygone age.
BlackBerry has gone to great lengths to reverse its fortunes, but critics see most of its efforts as playing a game of catch-up. For example, BlackBerry only introduced its own touchscreen device a year and a half after Apple and Google took the world by storm with their touchscreen phones.
The latest trick up BlackBerry's sleeve is BBM Protected, a messaging tool for the new eBBM Suite, a family of services built specifically for enterprise customers. BBM Protected offers high-level security by utilizing the FIPS 140-2 validated cryptographic library, the same security standard used by the U.S. government to accredit cryptographic modules. BlackBerry is currently making the only instant messaging app that uses encryption of this strength -- a fact BlackBerry is only too eager to point out, since it's likely to appeal to the company's core customer base. It works by assigning public/private encryption that's generated on a user's device to both the sender and the recipient. The sender's phone encrypts the message with a triple DES 168-bit BBM scrambling key; a matching key on the recipient's end decrypts the message.
Older BlackBerry devices will need BBOS version 6.0 or later to run BBM Protected, while BlackBerry 10 will run it in Regulated mode. Additional versions of the app are being built for BlackBerry Balance, iOS, and Android, and will be released in late 2014. BBM Protected was first announced in early 2014, but its arrival is happening earlier than planned.
"BBM Protected enables employees to use the same app to securely message colleagues inside the company for work as they do to chat and share with family and friends outside the company," said a representative from BlackBerry in a press release. Chats conducted via BBM Protected are not limited to employees of the same company; any BBM Protected user can chat securely with BBM Protected users at other companies, too.
Only time will tell if BlackBerry's foray into ultra-secure services will be enough to right its ship. BBM Protected should hold strong appeal for government workers, law firms, and other environments where secrecy is essential. It's no coincidence that those agencies and businesses are BlackBerry's most faithful customers.