David Gewirtz | BIO
Editor-in-Chief, ZATZ Publishing
Say you work for a new boss and want to keep your job. Now, say your new boss is the first-day-on-the-job President of the United States. Now, let's say your boss, the President, tells you that not only are you not going to take his BlackBerry from him, you're going to find a way to make sure he can keep it. What do you do? What do you do?
This was apparently the challenge facing someone in the incoming administration. We're talking about a serious security issue here, so details are sketchy at best. As you probably know, President Barack Obama has wanted to keep his beloved BlackBerry, but there were all sorts of security issues involved.
The "blogosphere" is on high-alert, reporting that Obama will get to keep his BlackBerry for standard messaging, but a "asuper-encryption package" has been added to the President's device. Stories also imply that Mr. Obama may use the super-spooky National Dynamics Sectera Edge for official business.
Let's be clear that this is un-sourced. No one I've spoken to in the security hierarchy has provided any further information and, honestly, if they did, I'm not sure it'd be prudent to pass it on.
But obviously this is an interesting story because President Obama may be the most technically savvy president we've yet seen. It's also an interesting story because it shows how viral news spreads. The story originally appeared in a well-respected blog, but with no supporting information, no official statement, and no details.
It was, basically, hearsay. But now, if you read many of the news reports online, including from well-respected tech and media sources, most articles simply state "Obama to keep his BlackBerry" or cite the Sectera device, but rarely mention that there's been no official statement to this effect. They simply cite the original, unverified story.
From a journalistic point of view, this level of unsupported news reporting is somewhat troubling, especially as we strive for more accuracy and accountability in our government.
That said, how feasible is it to add security upgrades to a BlackBerry? The fact is, it's definitely possible to add some increased tech to an off-the-shelf BlackBerry.
The BlackBerry Solutions Catalog lists a number of very capable security add-ons for BlackBerrys, including public-key and symmetric encryption, anti-theft management, along with secure email extensions that would allow the President to send an encrypted message to someone, even if they don't have special software at the other end.
Some members of the tech community have argued that one of the bigger risks of the President sending email is the potential for spoofing. That is, someone who is not Mr. Obama could send a message that looks like it's genuinely from the President that might contain misleading or dangerous information.
This, too, could be overcome with digital "signing" technology. This technology would allow the President to attach a digital signature to any message sent that would provide virtually fool-proof verification that it, indeed, did come from him.
Still, there are issues and benefits to President Obama's continued use of his BlackBerry. We've never had a fully-connected president before. No president before has been able, at an instant - and without involving any support staff - just pop out on the Web and see what's happening, send a note, or get a note from a trusted friend.
We've long been concerned that our presidents live in a bubble that skews their perspective of what's happening in the "real" world. If the rumor is true and Barack does keep his BlackBerry, the Presidential bubble will be broken, at least digitally.
If his tech experts keep a disciplined watch on the overall messaging system that includes President Obama's BlackBerry, a lot of good can come from having a connected President.
Editor’s note: David Gewirtz is Editor-in-Chief, ZATZ Magazines, including OutlookPower Magazine. He is a leading Presidential scholar specializing in White House email. He is a member of FBI InfraGard, the Cyberterrorism Advisor for the International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals, a columnist for The Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, and has been a guest commentator for the Nieman Watchdog of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. He is a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley extension, a recipient of the Sigma Xi Research Award in Engineering and was a candidate for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Letters.
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