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Sarah Tatsis, VP, Advanced Technology Development Labs at BlackBerry – Interview Series

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Sarah Tatsis, is the Vice President of Advanced Technology Development Labs at BlackBerry.

BlackBerry already secures more than 500M endpoints including 150M cars on the road. BlackBerry is leading the way with a single platform for securing, managing and optimizing how intelligent endpoints are deployed in the enterprise, enabling customers to stay ahead of the technology curve that will reshape every industry.

BlackBerry launched the Advanced Technology Development Lab (Blackberry Labs) in late 2019. What was the strategic importance of creating an entire new business division for BlackBerry?

As an innovation accelerator, BlackBerry Advanced Technology Development Labs is an intentional investment of 120 team members into the future of the company. The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) alongside a dynamic threat landscape has fostered a climate where organizations have to guard against new threats and breaches at all times. We’ve handpicked the team to include experts in the embedded IoT space with diverse capabilities, including strong data science expertise, whose innovation funnel investigates, incubates and develops technologies to keep BlackBerry at the forefront of security innovation.  ATD Labs works in strong partnership with the other BlackBerry business units, such as QNX, to further the company’s commitment to safety, security and data privacy for its customers. BlackBerry Labs is also partnering with universities on active research and development. We’re quite proud of these initiatives and think they will greatly benefit our future roadmap.

Last year, BlackBerry Labs successfully integrated Cylance’s machine learning technology into BlackBerry’s product pipeline. BlackBerry Labs is currently focused on incubating and developing new concepts to accelerate the innovation roadmaps for our Spark and IoT business units.  My role is primarily helping to drive the innovation funnel and partner with our business units to deliver valuable solutions for our customers.


What type of products are being developed at BlackBerry Labs?

BlackBerry Labs is facilitating applied research and using insights gained to innovate in the lines of business where we’re already developing market-leading solutions. For instance, we’re applying machine learning and data science to our existing areas of application, including automotive, mobile security, etc. This is possible in large part due to the influx of BlackBerry Cylance technology and expertise, which allows us to combine our ML pipeline and market knowledge to create solutions that are securing information and devices in a really comprehensive way. As new technologies and threats emerge, BlackBerry Labs will allow us to take a proactive approach to cybersecurity, not only updating our existing solutions, but evaluating how we can branch out and provide a more comprehensive, data-based, and diverse portfolio to secure the Internet of Things.

At CES, for instance, we unveiled an AI-based transportation solution geared towards OEMs and commercial fleets. This solution provides a holistic view of the security and health of a vehicle and provides control over that security for a manufacturer or fleet manager. It also uses machine learning based continuous authentication to identify a driver of a vehicle based on past driving behavior.  Born in BlackBerry Labs, this concept marked the first time BlackBerry Cylance’s AI and ML technologies have been integrated with BlackBerry QNX solutions, which are currently powering upwards of 150 million vehicles on the road today.

For additional insights into how we envision AI and ML shaping the world of mobility in the years to come, I would encourage you to read ‘Security Confidence Through Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for Smart Mobility’ from our recently released ‘Road to Mobility’ guide. Also released at this year’s CES, The Road to Mobility: The 2020 Guide to Trends and Technology for Smart Cities and Transportation, is a comprehensive resource that government regulators, automotive executives and technology innovators can turn to for forward-thinking considerations for making safe and secure autonomous and connected vehicles a reality, delivering a transportation future that drivers, passengers and pedestrians alike can trust.

Featuring a mix of insights from both our own internal experts and recognized voices from across the transportation industry, the guide provides practical strategies for anyone who’s interested in playing a vital role in shaping what the vehicles and infrastructure of our shared autonomous future will look like.


How important is artificial intelligence to the future of BlackBerry?

As both IoT and cybersecurity risk explodes, traditional methods of keeping organizations, things, and people safe and secure are becoming unscalable and ineffective.  Preventing, detecting, and responding to potential threats needs to account for large amounts of data and intelligent automation of appropriate responses.  AI and data science include tools that address these challenges and are therefore critical to the roadmap of BlackBerry. These tools allow BlackBerry to provide even greater value to our customers by reducing risk in efficient ways.  BlackBerry leverages AI to deliver innovative solutions in the areas of cybersecurity, safety and data privacy as part of our strategy to connect, secure, and manage every endpoint in the Internet of Things.

For instance, BlackBerry trains our end point protection AI model against billions of files, good and bad, so that it learns to autonomously convict, or not convict files, pre-execution. The result of this massive, ongoing training effort is a proven track record of blocking payloads attempting to exploit zero-days for up to two years into the future.

The ability to protect organizations from zero-day payloads, well before they are developed and deployed, means that when other IT teams are scrambling to recover from the next major outbreak, it will be business as usual for BlackBerry customers. For example, WannaCry, which rendered millions of computers across the globe useless, was prevented by a BlackBerry (Cylance) machine learning model developed, trained, and deployed 24 months before the malware was first reported.


BlackBerry’s QNX software is embedded in more than 150 million cars. Can you discuss what this software does?

Our software provides the safe and secure software foundation for many of the systems within the vehicle. We have a broad portfolio of functional safety-certified software including our QNX operating system, development tools and middleware for autonomous and connected vehicles. In the automotive segment, the company’s software is deployed across the vehicle in systems such as ADAS and Safety Systems, Digital Cockpits, Digital Instrument Clusters, Infotainment, Telematics, Gateways, V2X and increasingly is being selected for chassis control and battery management systems that are advancing in complexity.


QNX software includes cybersecurity which protects autonomous vehicles from various cyber-attacks. Can you discuss some of the potential vulnerabilities that autonomous vehicles have to cyberattacks?

I think there is still a misconception out there that when you get into your car to drive home from work later today you might fall prey to a massive and coordinated vehicle cyberattack in which a rogue state threatens to hold you and your vehicle ransom unless you meet their demands. Hollywood movies are good at exaggerating what is possible, for example, instant and entire compromise of fleets that undermines all safety systems in cars. Whilst there are and always will be vulnerabilities within any system, to exploit a vulnerability and on scale with unprecedented reliability presents all kinds of hurdles that must be overcome, and would also require a significant investment of time, energy and resources. I think the general public needs to be reminded of this and the fact that hacking, if and when they do occur, are undesirable but not as movies would have you believe.

With a modern connected vehicle now containing well over 100 million lines of code and some of the most complex software ever deployed by automakers, the need for robust security has never been more important. As the software in a car grows so does the attack surface, which makes it more vulnerable to cyberattacks. Each poorly constructed piece of software represents a potential vulnerability that can be exploited by attackers.

BlackBerry is perfectly positioned to address these challenges as we have the solutions, the expertise and pedigree to be the safety certified and secure foundational software for autonomous and connected vehicles.


How does QNX software protect vehicles from these potential cyberattacks?

BlackBerry has a broad portfolio of products and services to protect vehicles against cybersecurity attacks. Our software has been deployed in critical embedded systems for over three decades and it’s worth pointing out, has also been certified to the highest level of automotive certification for functional safety with ISO 26262 ASIL D. As a company, we are investing significantly to broaden our safety and security product and services portfolio. Simply put, this is what our customers demand and rely on from us – a safe, secure and reliable software platform.

As it pertains to security, we firmly believe that security cannot be an afterthought. For automakers and the entire automotive supply chain, security should be inherent in the entire product lifecycle. As part of our ongoing commitment to security, we published a 7-Pillar Cybersecurity Recommendation to share our insight and expertise on this topic. In addition to our safety-certified and secure operating system and hypervisor, BlackBerry provides a host of security products– such as managed PKI, FIPS 140-2 certified toolkits, key inject tools, binary code static analysis tools, security credential management systems (SCMS), and secure Over-The-Air (OTA) software update technology. The world’s leading automakers, tier ones, and chip manufacturers continue to seek out BlackBerry’s safety-certified and highly-secure software for their next-generation vehicles. Together with our customers we will help to ensure that the future of mobility is safe, secure and built on trust.


Can you elaborate on what is the QNX Hypervisor?

The QNX® Hypervisor enables developers to partition, separate, and isolate safety-critical environments from non-safety critical environments reliably and securely; and to do so with the precision needed in an embedded production system. The QNX Hypervisor is also the world’s first ASIL D safety-certified commercial hypervisor.


What are some of the auto manufacturers using QNX software?

BlackBerry’s pedigree in safety, security, and continued innovation has led to its QNX technology being embedded in more than 150 million vehicles on the road today. It is used by the top seven automotive Tier 1s, and by 45+ OEMs including Audi, BMW, Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, KIA, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Toyota, and Volkswagen.


Is there anything else that you would like to share about Blackberry Labs?

BlackBerry is committed to constant and consistent innovation– it’s at the forefront of everything we do– but we also have a unique legacy of being one of the pioneers of mobile based security, and further the idea of a truly secure devices, endpoints, and communications.  The lessons we learned over the past decades, as well as the technology we developed, will be instrumental for helping us to create a new standard for privacy and security as the tsunami of connected devices enter the IoT. Much of what BlackBerry has done in the past is re-emerging in front of us, and we’re one of the only companies prioritizing a fundamental belief that all users deserve solutions that allow them to own their data and secure communications– it’s baked into our entire development pipeline and is one of our key differentiators.  BlackBerry Labs is combining this history with new technology innovations to address the rapidly expanding landscape of mobile and connected endpoints, including vehicles, and increased security threats. Through our strong partnerships with BlackBerry business units we are creating new features, products, and services to deliver value to both new and existing customers.

Thank you for the wonderful interview and for your extensive responses. It's clear to me that Blackberry is at the forefront of technology and its best days are still ahead. Readers who wish to learn more should visit the Blackberry website.

BlackBerry CES 2020, AI based Cybersecurity for Smart Mobility

A founding partner of unite.AI & a member of the Forbes Technology Council, Antoine is a futurist who is passionate about the future of AI & robotics.

He is also the Founder of, a website that focuses on investing in disruptive technology.