BlackBerry Force One Is Up to the Job

"Hail to the Chief" is so yesterday.

Now that Barack Obama and his tech-savvy team have ascended to the White House, the more apt expression appears to be "Berry to the Chief."

Since winning the election, Obama has argued that he should be allowed to bring his BlackBerry to the Oval Office, despite national security concerns and a tradition of e-mail-free presidents.

On Thursday, he finally got to say, "I won the fight."

Although Obama will only be able to communicate with senior staff and a select group of personal friends, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed that officials had negotiated a secure way for the president to hold on to his precious device.

"He believes it's a way of keeping in touch with folks, a way of doing it outside of getting stuck in a bubble," Gibbs said at his first White House press briefing.

The Triple Threat

Gibbs didn't provide many details about the enhancements that will make the device safe for presidential use, but though security experts recognize that nothing can be absolutely hacker-proof, they say the "Obamaberry" will be well-protected.

"There are three areas where security issue come to play with the BlackBerry," Greg Harper, a technology consultant for Fortune 500 companies, told "The physical location of the device, the voice communication and the data."

But while each one has its own set of security threats, they are not beyond resolution. And, he said, the key to each of them is to change tactics rapidly.

Multiple techniques could work, and given the President's sky-high profile, Harper expects the security team behind Obama's BlackBerry to stay ahead of potential hackers by changing codes, methods and, potentially devices, with high frequency.

Many executives use systems that encrypt the data traveling in e-mail exchanges, and Harper surmised that Obama will use the most powerful one NSA has to offer.

He also said that most likely the list of people who will be able to communicate with him will be extremely limited. In addition to rejecting messages from unknown e-mail addresses, Obama's incoming e-mail messages will likely spend some time quarantined and scanned for malware before they are forwarded to his Blackberry.

Tracking the President

Addressing the voice issue is more complicated but, he said, there are a few options available. The digital voice signal can be scrambled, although it requires both parties in a call to have the same scrambling technology.

He noted NSA-approved secure phone lines and cell phones. And he said that, though it's not easy to add the necessary features to a BlackBerry, Research In Motion, the company that makes the device, has worked with the government to make phone conversations more secure.

The more difficult issue to address is the location piece. At all times, a working cell phone is talking to cell towers so that the cellular system knows where to deliver calls and messages.

That constant communication makes it possible for a hacker to track the user's whereabouts.

"GPS -- that is a very big concern. That's one of the biggest concerns with having a BlackBerry," said James Bamford, an NSA expert and author of "The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America."

"The worst case scenario is using that signal as a homing device," he addd.

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