BlackBerry Protect brings enterprise security to consumers

The service will be available for the vast majority of RIM's current smartphones running BlackBerry OS 4.6 or higher

BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM) today took the wraps off its latest offering for consumers, BlackBerry Protect, a free service meant to help non-corporate BlackBerry users secure and manage their smartphones.

Formerly referred to by tipsters as "BlackBerry Shield," BlackBerry Protect is both an on-device application and a Web-based desktop interface that work together to let you back up and restore your BlackBerry at any given time, from anywhere assuming your device is powered-on and within a cellular coverage area. So if you misplace your BlackBerry you can remotely backup all data on the device; lock it and assign a new password; post an on-screen message for someone who may discover it; find its exact whereabouts using GPS; activate a loud ringer; and even wipe it completely, including memory cards.

RIM built its reputation in the mobile industry largely on its BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) and the associated security safeguards, and the company is wisely attempting to bring some of those security features to BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) users, who are mostly consumers. BlackBerry Protect "gives consumers the most important pieces of BES for their lives," according to Michael K. Brown, RIM director of security product management.

Unfortunately, the service, which will be released as a limited beta today, won't be widely available until later this year, Brown says.

BlackBerry Protect users log in to the service, on-device and via desktop, using their "BlackBerry ID," another new identification service RIM plans to tie to both BlackBerry App World 2.0 and BlackBerry Protect, so users need only one login and password. Up to five different BlackBerry smartphones can be associated with each BlackBerry ID/Protect account, so families and small business could utilize the service in addition to individuals, RIM says. And BlackBerry ID will also presumably be used for access to more upcoming RIM services in the future. (Read more on BlackBerry App World 2.0 and BlackBerry ID.)

The on-device app lets you turn BlackBerry Protect services on or off, after authentication via login, and back up and restore some or all of your previously backed-up data whenever you please, as well as set backups to occur in specific intervals, i.e., every 12 hours.

The real heart of BlackBerry Protect, however, lies in the desktop interface, which communicates with the on-device app to enable an impressive array of remote features and functionalities. The desktop interface offers users--and wireless carriers, via a new "BlackBerry User Account" service--all the same backup and restore features as the on-device app and more, but it's meant to be accessed remotely from an Internet-connected computer.

With the desktop interface BlackBerry Protect users can set auto-backup preferences and determine specifically which data to back up and/or restore and which data to ignore. You can specify when you want backups to occur, as well whether or not they should be performed only when connected to a Wi-Fi network, to save on data fees. Or block the service from backing up while your device is roaming. The desktop interface also lets you view the status of certain commands, so, for instance, you could determine whether or not your device has already been backed up on a given day.

Unfortunately, BlackBerry Protect is effective only when a lost or missing device is powered on and connected to a wireless network, so users with devices that run out of battery-life or that are lost in places without wireless coverage, like a basement or the bottom of a lake, won't be able to utilize BlackBerry Protect, RIM says.

Because corporate BlackBerry administrators already have access to most--though not all--BlackBerry Protect security services via RIM's BES software, and they don't necessarily want users to have the same access, BlackBerry Protect does not work on BES-activated devices. In fact, BES disables BlackBerry Protect so it cannot be used at all on enterprise BlackBerrys, according to RIM.

The service will be available for the vast majority of RIM's current smartphones running BlackBerry OS 4.6 or higher, including all three BlackBerry Bold devices, all versions of the touch-screen Storm, the BlackBerry Tour and the Curve 85xx and 8900 devices. Conspicuously absent from the list are the brand new BlackBerry Pearl 9100/9105 and RIM's most popular device-line to date, the older Curve 83xx family of smartphones.

And the BlackBerry Protect desktop interface requires Windows Internet Explorer 6, 7, or 8; Mozilla Firefox 3.x; or Safari 3 or 4.

Hit the jump for more screen shots of BlackBerry Protect. And check out my BlackBerry Security Basics for tips on keeping your smartphone safe.

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Tags research in motionconsumer electronicssecurityPhonessmartphones

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