BlackBerry SVP: ‘Too often, cybersecurity is an after-market add-on’

23 Apr 2021

Sarah Tatis. Image: © Andrew Schito/BlackBerry

BlackBerry’s Sarah Tatsis talks about current threat landscape and why security needs to be baked into product development from day one.

Sarah Tatsis is the senior vice-president of the advanced technology development labs at BlackBerry, the Canadian multinational specialising in enterprise software and IoT technology.

Having worked at the company for almost 20 years, Tatsis has held a number of leadership positions in areas such as quality, pricing, statistical methods, customer support and operations.

She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Waterloo. She is also currently president of Soroptimist International of Kitchener-Waterloo, a volunteer organisation that provides women and girls with access to education and training.

‘The data that drives machine learning and AI is only useful – and safe – if it cannot be compromised’

Describe your role and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy.

Me and my team of engineers are responsible for taking new technologies from ideation, to incubation, to delivery into BlackBerry products, and for helping BlackBerry stay on the cutting edge of security innovation.

Are you spearheading any major product or IT initiatives you can tell us about?

My team is spearheading the product development for BlackBerry IVY, the company’s recently announced intelligent vehicle data platform. BlackBerry IVY is a scalable, cloud-connected software platform that will allow automakers to provide a consistent and secure way to read vehicle sensor data, normalise it and create actionable insights from that data both locally in the vehicle and in the cloud.

Automakers can use this information to create responsive in-vehicle services that enhance driver and passenger experiences. We are also building out a partner ecosystem to set up pilots and help select businesses across the smart mobility sector turbocharge their innovation and bring new products and applications to market using IVY.

In March 2021, BlackBerry launched the BlackBerry IVY Innovation Fund to accelerate the expansion of the BlackBerry IVY ecosystem with innovative transportation solutions. The fund will initially allocate up to $50m to invest in start-ups focused on developing data-driven solutions that can benefit from BlackBerry IVY’s AI insights and support from BlackBerry and AWS.

How big is your team?

The advanced technology development labs (BlackBerry Labs) team is made up of more than 120 software developers, architects, researchers, product leads and security experts, along with 40 co-ops.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation?

As BlackBerry transitioned from a position as pioneer and leader within the smartphone market to the security software and services space, so too was there a need to conduct a digital transformation across IT and business systems.

Our strategy to accomplish this goal has entailed the development of a comprehensive, strategic redefinition of our technology services to deliver simplified, agile, integrated, lower cost solutions.

The execution of such a technology simplification strategy is focused on enriching customer experience as well as accelerating revenue growth by extensively leveraging SaaS applications, avoiding customisation while advancing and modernising secure, mobile and agile user enablement.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

Security, baked in. Cybersecurity is, in all too many ways, an after-market add-on. But this kind of model can become a roadblock to comprehensive security – like plugging the sink while the faucet is already on.

Take, for instance, the connected vehicle market. Vehicles continue to make use of data-rich sensors to deliver safety and comfort features to the driver. But if these platforms aren’t built with security as a prerequisite, it’s easy to open up a new cyberattack vector with each new feature.

In many cases, the data that drives machine learning and AI is only useful – and safe – if it cannot be compromised. Cybersecurity must become a pillar of product and platform development from day one, instead of added on after the architecture is established.

The threat landscape is also wider and more complex than ever. From a security perspective, we will see continued development of AI-based threat detection and prediction solutions.

I cannot stress the importance of this enough as today’s cybersecurity threats are vast and incredibly smart, many employing AI in a weaponised form. We are seeing more threats designed to evade traditional perimeter defences, which are invisible to threat detection methods that rely on blacklists and malware signatures.

This is where AI is so important. Intelligent technologies lie at the heart of the solution to rapid and new cyberattacks. These technologies help to fuel automated and predictive threat detection, which can spot the signs of a threat before it infiltrates systems, and which typically sparks the reactive response.

AI-based cybersecurity solutions are not only capable of preventing known threats, but of predicting and preventing new threats before they have the chance to cause significant damage.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data?

2020 was a challenging year for businesses and individuals around the world. The Covid-19 pandemic forced companies to shift overnight to a completely remote, work-from-home business model and accelerated digital transformation projects.

Cybercriminals seized on the opportunity created from the chaos and confusion and dramatically increased attacks, placing sensitive and personal data at greater risk than ever before.

The organisations that demonstrate that they can be trusted to securely handle and protect the privacy and data of customers, partners and employees will differentiate themselves from competitors and maintain a tactical advantage in the market.

On top of the pandemic, the 2020 presidential election in the US also highlighted a variety of threats. Manipulated and deep fake videos fuelled a deluge of misinformation that make it virtually impossible for average citizens to know what is true or false.

Privacy played a central role as well though, thanks to things like changes to the privacy policy of WhatsApp and the massive SolarWinds hack that allegedly enabled a nation-state attacker unprecedented access to government and public sector agencies as well as private sector corporations.

At the end of the day, companies across all industries and all around the world have a responsibility to protect data and ensure privacy.

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