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The BlackBerry Mobile Data System : Knowing That Your Data Is Being Securely Transmitted, Using the BlackBerry MDS Simulator

1/21/2013 2:41:08 PM
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1. Knowing That Your Data Is Being Securely Transmitted

Because MDS proxies all the application data requests made by device-side applications, and an organization isn’t exposing any firewall ports to enable BlackBerry applications, BlackBerry devices look and feel to the network like PCs sitting inside the firewall. Existing authentication mechanisms for internal systems can still apply to mobile devices without worrying about malicious attackers having more access to your internal environment than they did before the BlackBerry devices came along.

Because of this, there is no need to implement a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to provide these mobile devices with access to internal applications. This capability is already baked into the solution—a sort of pseudo-VPN. The internal resources BlackBerry applications need to connect to are already available to applications the moment you enable MDS. Adding a VPN on top of this secure connection to internal resources provided by MDS is just extra work that the device has to do for little value and decreases the performance of the application (because it takes more time to encrypt the data a second time for the VPN connection) and reduces the device’s overall battery life.

If your organization is worried about what these mobile devices are doing, your BlackBerry administrators can lock down the devices so they can’t access any servers outside of your firewall (block all external sites). They can lock down the connections so any request has to come through MDS before it routes to the external network and can even block access to certain internal servers. This allows an organization to monitor all traffic (both internal and external) and block access to sites that should not be accessed. All of this capability is provided through components of the BlackBerry Enterprise Solution.

Raising Security Concerns

I attended a meeting with the BES administrators for a national retailer. I spent an hour talking about MDS, the free development tools, and the benefits they can provide the organization. The administrators listened politely and we all agreed that they’d let me know when they needed to dig deeper into the topic.

A few days later, I received a call from one of the administrators. He said he had a security person on the line and he wanted to talk about BlackBerry security. At the start of the call, he told me that security had an issue with all this access MDS was providing BlackBerry users. He said, “So, a BlackBerry device has access to any internal resource inside our firewall,” and I told him that it was true, what MDS could see, devices could also see. If they wanted to protect certain resources (servers), they needed to isolate the system running MDS from the network segments that housed the servers in question.

The response from the security guy was, “Well, we can’t have that!” I asked him to explain, and what I heard was that, because the company processed transactions with Visa and MasterCard, it had to conform to standards that would prohibit these devices from accessing the network.[3] I explained to him that I was sure that the major credit-card companies were using BlackBerry devices and that it would be OK. I pointed him to www.blackberry.com/security to find more details on how to ensure the company’s BlackBerry environment was as secure as it needed to be.


[3] Retailers who process above a certain amount of transactions must conform to an industry standard for security called Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) that affects how data is transmitted and maintained on a company’s network.



2. Using the BlackBerry MDS Simulator

The BlackBerry MDS simulator provides developers with a local copy of the BlackBerry MDS service the BlackBerry device simulators can use to connect to local and network resources. With MDS running, the BlackBerry device simulator can connect to resources running on the local system (such as local web servers or other application servers) and any remote network resources accessible from the system.

Most versions of the BlackBerry development tools include the MDS simulator; the only exception was the 4.2.0 and 4.2.1 JDE. The only time you need to download it separately is if you’re testing applications in the simulator outside of one of the development tools or working with the specified versions of the JDE. If needed, you can download it from the BlackBerry Developer’s website at http://na.blackberry.com/eng/developers/browserdev/devtoolsdownloads.jsp. After you download the simulator, launch the file to begin the installation and just accept all the default options. After installation, start the MDS simulator by opening the Windows Start menu and navigating to Programs, Research In Motion, BlackBerry Email and MDS Services Simulators 4.1.2, then clicking the icon labeled MDS.

When the simulator opens, there is no interface for the developer to interact with; it displays inside of a simple DOS console window, as shown in Figure 1. Whenever the MDS simulator receives a request from or returns data to the BlackBerry device simulator, the console updates to show the activity. You can use this display to verify that the device simulator is talking to the network and receiving a response.

Figure 1. BlackBerry MDS simulator window

To close the MDS simulator, click the red X in the upper-right corner of the window.

 
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