BlackBerry outage reveals government vulnerability

As the first major disruption of its kind, the outage Tuesday night of e-mail services on BlackBerry mobile devices showed the critical role the devices have assumed among government users. Beginning Tuesday evening, the outage blocked or caused sporadic delivery of data messages to BlackBerry users in North America until early Wednesday morning, although it did not disrupt BlackBerry users' voice services.

The outage showed that government users 'are as dependent on mobile e-mail as users in the Fortune 500,'said Randall De Lorenzo, vice president of mobile strategy at ProfitLine, a telecom expense management firm in San Diego. The devices have become so common in the public sector that a single federal agency can account for as many as tens of thousands of BlackBerry users, De Lorenzo said.

As a measure of the penetration of mobile e-mail among large organizations, 81 percent of the large enterprise IT and telecom staff that responded to a ProfitLine poll said the outage caused noticeable disruptions in their operations, while 44.5 percent of respondents said it resulted in moderate to substantial drops in productivity, according to the firm. Among respondents, only 18.2 percent said the outage resulted in no harm to operations, ProfitLine said.

The outage will require BlackBerry's parent firm, Research In Motion of Ontario, Canada, to reassure its millions of users that disruptions will not reoccur, even though the BlackBerry messaging network had been free of failures prior to the outage this week, ProfitLine's De Lorenzo said.

RIM is still trying to determine what caused the outage, but in the wake of the disruption is closely monitoring its systems to ensure normal service levels, the company said in a statement.

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