Remember the Blackberry? The company that made the hand-held devices, Research in Motion, was once called the ‘fastest growing company in the world’ by Forbes magazine. Then along came the iPhone and the rest was history. But the company – now renamed BlackBerry Limited – is no longer just about mobile devices. It’s transformed itself by concentrating on software and digital security. Its portfolio includes QNX that has a thirty-year history focused on industries with mission critical systems including medical, rail and nuclear power plants.

“QNX software for infotainment and telematics systems is in over 120 million cars,” says Kaivan Karimi, SVP and Head of Sales of BlackBerry Technology Solutions. “Therefore the company has intimacy with the automotive industry.”

The automotive industry is rapidly changing. Vehicles are becoming more complex with hundreds of ECU’s (electronic control units) which require complex software. An average sedan has over one hundred million lines of code – that’s more lines of code than Facebook, Windows Vista, Android or the Space Shuttle, notes Karimi. Car parts are supplied by multiple vendors all over the world with different software stacks that are increasingly complex.

Another automotive design trend is that, instead of separate ECUs, automakers, to cut down on weight are consolidating using a single multi-core fast processor to operate the cockpit, entertainment and cabin control functions, says Karimi. Each function may require a different level of safety and certification which QNX provides. On top of those functions are driver safety systems such as Forward Collision Warning, Blind Spot Detection and Park Assist that require more software and processing.

After the infamous remote Jeep Cherokee hack back in 2015, the automotive industry became aware of the paramount importance of cybersecurity and BlackBerry has used its expertise to help. BlackBerry is now known for its experience in security with its mobile security used by entities with the highest security restrictions such as major banks, insurance, healthcare, aerospace and defence firms.

Karimi emphasises the need for multiple responses and checks for threats. “We look at security like defending a Medieval castle with many lines of defence. The first line of defence is the moat. Then the gate and archers up on the towers. If someone gets through the gate, they are covered in oil, and then shot with flaming arrows by the archers inside.”

A car’s life cycle can be ten to fifteen years or more, requiring over-the-air updates to fix software issues which can also open the system up to hacking and vulnerabilities. In the fall of 2017, BlackBerry introduced, ‘Cybersecurity for Automobiles, BlackBerry 7 Pillars Automotive Security Framework’ designed to harden automobile electronics from attack. The 7 pillars were culled from knowledge both BlackBerry and QNX discovered through its software, suppliers and years of experience, says Karimi.

The pillars include:

  • Secure the supply chain.
  • Use trusted components.
  • Isolation of safety-critical systems.
  • In field health checks.
  • Rapid incident response network.
  • Lifecycle management.
  • Safety and security culture.

“We’re in a unique position to pay attention to the whole system,” says Karimi. But maintaining all the seven pillars can be difficult without the right tools. “With complex components and software coming from all the world, there can be problems with compiled code that can open a backdoor to threats,” says Karimi.

Credit: Blackberry

In January 2018 at NIAS (North American International Auto Show) BlackBerry announced Jarvis a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tool that helps automakers secure their software supply chain. BlackBerry Jarvis inspects binary files and delivers insights into the quality and security of software components.

Previously, automakers used to hire consultants to check code and the supply chain. Jarvis ran a test in seven minutes A consultant looked at the same system and it took him three and a half weeks. Jarvis found over four-times more problems than the consultant says Karimi.

“We look at Jarvis like getting medical tests. You may discover that you have high blood pressure, high sodium or fat. Then you can look at the ingredients in your food and improve your health,” he adds.

BlackBerry’s glory days may be well and truly be behind it. But the future is starting to look a little brighter for the former stock market darling.