NEWS | April 5, 2010

Security worries lead to BlackBerry limits

By Tom Spoth Air Force Times

The Air Force's nearly 50,000 BlackBerrys are not quite so handy anymore. Starting this month, airmen can no longer use the mobile devices to send text messages with photos or videos attached, or download new applications.

Bluetooth capability is also being disabled on most BlackBerrys.

The service is making the changes to protect against cyber attacks, according to 24th Air Force, which is responsible for cybersecurity.

"Malicious activity can be carried through attachments, and that's what we are trying to avoid," said Capt. Christine Millette, 24th Air Force spokeswoman.

The Defense Information Security Agency recently determined that security can be enhanced if certain nonessential functions are disabled on hand-held devices, and the Air Force changes are meant to comply with DISA standards, according to Capt. Bob Krause, a spokesman for the 24th.

The good news for airmen is they won't have to bring their devices in to be serviced. The changes will be implemented through the Air Force network, Millette said.

Krause added in a statement that airmen "will not experience a significant reduction of capacity" because of the reconfiguration.

"The primary official function of these devices, to send and receive e-mail, will not change," he said.

In addition to the new restrictions on texting, downloading and Bluetooth, airmen will see these changes:

- If a device is being synched and its software is out of date, a "Force Load" message will appear. The user will have only one opportunity to decline updating the software. Any subsequent syncing attempts will render the device inoperative until the software is updated.

- Users will no longer be able to connect their smart card reader cradle to their computers.

BlackBerrys are becoming ubiquitous in the service. In December, the Air Force reported that it had 45,000 of the devices, up from 30,000 just 18 months before.