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BlackBerry Says It’s Staging a Comeback - But Nobody Told the Feds

President Barack Obama uses his BlackBerry device as he walks at Sidwell Friends school in Bethesda, Md.

President Barack Obama uses his BlackBerry device as he walks at Sidwell Friends school in Bethesda, Md. // Charles Dharapak/AP File Photo

BlackBerry insists it’s staging a comeback.

The company has installed a new leadership team, slashed operating expenses by $2 billion over the past year, stabilized its cash flow -- and is still making “awesome” devices, according to the company’s new chief operating officer.

"Reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated,” BlackBerry COO Marty Beard told a largely government crowd Thursday at a Washington, D.C. conference

But federal officials, current and former, apparently didn’t get the memo.

When queried by The New York Times this week about “particularly retrograde” technology she’s encountered in her 2.5 months on the job, the Obama administration’s new chief technology officer, Megan Smith, wasted no time mentioning the once-mighty mobile device.

“My son saw me with my BlackBerry, and he was like, 'Hi, ’90s mom,'” the former Google executive said.

Beard called Smith’s comments “snarky.”

"So, you know, clearly we're going to have to update her” about the company’s turnaround, he said.

BlackBerry hasn’t exactly been “cool” for a while now, having been supplanted as tastemaster and trendsetter by both Apple and Android years ago. Still, the influence the company has retained, especially in Washington, has been thanks to its “gold standard” reputation for security, as Beard put it.

"This is really what BlackBerry does,” he said. “It focuses on industries that care about security -- financial services, health care, government."

Encryption to Blame for BlackBerry's Downturn?

So, it might’ve stung even more than Smith’s tossed-off jab when the company’s entire security-conscious business model was recently thrown under the bus by a former official from the National Security Agency.

“BlackBerry pioneered the same business model that Google and Apple are doing now -- that has not ended well for BlackBerry,” said Stewart Baker, speaking at an Internet summit in Dublin this week. He was referencing recent decisions by Google and Apple to offer customers by default software that automatically encrypts material, with no backdoor to law enforcement.

BlackBerry’s response?

A: Who is that guy? And B: Actually, robust security has turned out to be an asset for the company.

"I don't know who that person is or where he's getting that viewpoint, but actually from what we see in terms of our business, the interest in higher security is skyrocketing, just given all the cybersecurity threats,” Beard told Nextgov in a brief interview after his remarks at the conference.

He added, “It sounds like that guy [Stewart Baker] needs to be educated.”

Baker, for what it’s worth, served as the top NSA lawyer during the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations.

During his speech at the conference, Beard focused his remarks on the increasing need for agencies to secure mobile devices on their network as well as the applications that run on those devices.

Mobile "is the new gateway for hackers,” he said. Governments and businesses are still more focused on providing access to mobile devices -- rather than securing them -- because there is such pent-up demand from workers to bring their own devices to the workplace.

Agencies need to have a mobile management platform, which provides visibility into the devices connected on their networks and can update and secure them as needed, Beard said.

"This is like the basic premise of managing that perimeter,” he said. “Without that, you literally do have the Wild, Wild West and you literally are exposed to a lot of risks."

As for the company, it’s hoping to continue spreading the newfound good news.

"Because BlackBerry had gone through this tough time and this whole kind of turmoil ... we just need to get out and educate,” Beard told Nextgov.

And not a moment too soon.

Once Washington’s biggest BlackBerry cheerleader, President Barack Obama -- who fought to get a secure version of his device approved for official use when he took office -- was recently seen ogling the ambassador of Bahrain’s new iPhone 6 at a United Nations summit in September.

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