Motorola aiming to provide BlackBerry-style security for Android

Company acquires stealth startup 3LM, which is working on enterprise security for Android devices

Motorola Mobility announced Feb. 14 that it was acquiring stealth startup 3LM, a company founded by former Google employees Tom Moss and Gurav Mathur that was rumored to be working on enterprise solutions for Android smart phones and tablets.

In and of itself, the acquisition does not seem all that exciting, but it could indicate that Motorola aims to provide Android devices with the security certifications that would make them palatable to government agencies.

There are a lot of companies working to create enterprise solutions for Android. Juniper and IBM recently formed a partnership for mobile security across platforms. Cisco, SyBase and Samsung have been working on enterprise. OK Kernel, Symantec, ManTech and a variety of others are pushing for Android security solutions. 3LM, while intriguing, has not announced a product or a road map for Android enterprise security.

“3LM has been acquired by Motorola Mobility. Coming soon to an enterprise near you,” Moss, the former worldwide head of Android business development and operations at Google, said in a post on social question-and-answer site Quora about the acquisition.

It seems that is about all that Moss is going to offer until 3LM has a product ready to launch. Repeated attempts to discuss with Moss what 3LM is working on through Quora have gone unanswered. A Quora question asked “What is 3LM/Tom Moss working on?” which was answered by Moss himself.

“The Internet says we are working on something in the enterprise apps space for Android or something like that. Sounds roughly right to me,” Moss wrote with a link to a TechCrunch article from October, 2010 detailing seed funding for the startup.


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For reference, the Three Laws of Mobility referenced in the company's name are a play on the Three Laws Of Robotics created by author Isaac Asimov in the 1940s and later expanded upon in the current era by movies such "The Matrix."

According to 3LM’s company website, Three Laws of Mobility are:

  • Protect your user. A mobile device may not harm its user or, through inaction, allow its user to come to harm though malicious code or content.
  • Protect yourself. A mobile device must protect itself and the integrity of its data and secured communications.
  • Obey. A mobile device must let the user employ the device freely, as long as such use does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Enterprise mobility for years has been dominated by Research in Motion and its BlackBerry devices and platform. BlackBerry integrates encryption on the kernel level of code and enterprise solutions through its BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) as well as its Mobile Voice System products.

Moss was Andy Rubin’s – the director of the Android project at Google – right-hand man before leaving the company. If anyone is qualified to attack the Android enterprise space, it is Moss.

“3LM, which stands for Three Laws of Mobility, is a company putting together a suite of services akin to the BES server for Android,” a source familiar with 3LM’s project said in a recent interview. The source could not elaborate more on the 3LM, citing a nondisclosure agreement he has with the company.

A BES-style server for Android would be a significant development for the platform in the enterprise. Outside of BlackBerry, none of the major phone manufacturers has such a product and only a handful of third-party companies – Cisco, for example – have or are working on anything similar.

The only platforms that have Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2 compliance as of now are RIM and Good Technologies, which provides security for Apple’s iPhone, among others. The only smart phones that have FIPS compliance thus far are BlackBerry phone devices (but not yet the upcoming PlayBook tablet), Window Mobile (versions 6.1 and 6.5, not to be confused with Windows Phone 7, the newest iteration of Microsoft’s smart phone platform) and soon (if not already) the iPhone.

In the press release announcing the acquisition of 3LM, Motorola Mobility said that it would work with other Android original equipment manufacturers to provide Android devices with security. That means that Motorola wants to position itself as the hub of the Android enterprise community – the BlackBerry of Androids, so to speak.

“In addition to incorporating the technology into Motorola Mobility products, Motorola intends to make the 3LM solution available to other handset manufacturers,” Motorola’s press release stated. “3LM will continue as a business unit within Motorola, and expects to work with other leading Android device manufacturers, to promote and distribute the 3LM solution for Android in the enterprise.”

The 3LM website lists Sony Ericsson, Motorola, HTC, Sharp and PanTech as partners.

Android smart phones are the fastest growing segment of the smart phone market and have overtaken both RIM and Apple recently in overall phone activations. Industry forecasters predict that mobile devices – tablets and smart phones, mostly – will overtake desktop/laptop purchases within a year and that the mobile ecosystem will grow exponentially in terms of data usage in the next five years. Enterprise and government cannot ignore the advantages of mobile, especially as employees come to the IT office and demand that the expensive phone they just bought function in the enterprise workspace.

As Android has set itself up as a dominant player in the mobile space for years to come, Motorola has seemingly set itself up to be one of the major pieces of the enterprise puzzle. Android may not have a full suite of security resources quite yet and 3LM has not officially released a product, but soon enough BlackBerry could have a serious problem on its hands as the Android monster has real security solutions to compete in the enterprise space.


About the Author

Dan Rowinski is a staff reporter covering communications technologies.

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