No iPhones, just BlackBerries for UK government employees

BlackBerries are fine but the iPhone isn't allowed by the UK's GCHQ signals intelligence center

U.K. government ministers are not allowed to use Apple's iPhone but Blackberries are fine, presumably for security reasons, according Health Secretary Simon Burns .

Burns was asked a question on Monday in Parliament by Tom Watson, a Labour member of Parliament active in technology issues. The written answer was posted on Parliament's Web site.

Watson asked specifically what kind of mobile devices have been issued to officials in Burn's ministry. Burns responded that only Research in Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry is allowed.

"The Department does not issue Apple iPhones to staff as these are not approved for Government use by the CESG [Communications Electronics Security Group]," Burns said. "CESG is the Information Assurance arm of GCHQ [Government Communications Headquarters] which aims to protect and promote the vital interests of the United Kingdom by providing advice and assistance on the security of communications and electronic data."

BlackBerries have been approved by CESG to handle restricted data when configured according to that organization's guidelines, according to RIM. Customers include the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.K.'s Defense Ministry and more than half of the U.K.'s police forces, the company said.

Apple's iPhone has seen wide adoption among large organizations, including banks. The company has made improvements to the device in regards to security since its release in 2007, but security researchers have occasionally found flaws.

Smartphones in general have been much less affected by the explosion in malicious software that targets mostly Windows-based desktops, but analysts predict smartphones will increasingly become targeted by hackers as more people use them.

In 2009, security researchers Charlie Miller and Colin Mulliner found a flaw in the iPhone's SMS (Short Message Service) function that may have allowed an attacker to remotely install and run other software code with root access to the phone. The flaw was quickly patched by Apple.

Other problems have been found to affected "jailbroken" iPhones, those whose owners have modified the software in way that enables them to download unauthorized applications. Apple strongly warns users not to jailbreak their phones.

Apple officials in London could not immediately be reached.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com

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Tags smartphonesmobile phonesiPhoneRIM BlackBerry

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Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
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