The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of WRAL Tech Wire and business editor of WRAL.com.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – When IBM employee Mary raises her iPhones to her ear, she doesn’t get a message from Siri.
“What can I help you with?”
So asks the voice-activated personal assistant with the pleasant female voice that has helped make the latest iPhone models a global sales sensation.
But Siri will not get a response from Mary even if Mary wants to know the latest weather forecast.
“I don’t understand,” Siri would say after a few moments before shutting down.
What’s to understand is IBM’s concerns about security.
You see, Siri is disconnected if Mary wants to use her Apple smartphone to connect to IBM’s networks.
Jeanette Horan, chief information officer at IBM (NYSE: IBM), says Big Blue has banned Siri due to security concerns.
“We’re just extraordinarily conservative,” Horan told MIT’s Technology Review in an interview. “It’s the nature of our business.”
The technology giant, which employs some 10,000 people across North Carolina, is concerned that spoken queries to Siri might be hijacked.
Storing Siri requests
For those unfamiliar with Siri, Apple explains it this way:
“Siri is the intelligent personal assistant that helps you get things done just by asking. It allows you to use your voice to send messages, schedule meetings, place phone calls, and more. But Siri isn’t like traditional voice recognition software that requires you to remember keywords and speak specific commands. Siri understands your natural speech, and it asks you questions if it needs more information to complete a task.”
Wired magazine points out that IBM has reason to be concerned since Siri data is stored at its new data center in Western North Carolina, and the data is covered by a license agreement.
“When you use Siri or Dictation, the things you say will be recorded and sent to Apple in order to convert what you say into text,” Apple says.
It’s not just Siri that IBM is worried about.
Horanh says IBM disables file transfer programs on employee’s iPhones to Apple’s iCloud. MIT notes that IBMers instead use an IBM-hosted version known as MyMobileHub.
Plus, if an IBMer is bringing his or her own device to work – a recent trend known as BYOD or “bring your own device” – and wants to use it to connect to IBM’s networks, other restrictions are put in place.
For example, IBM puts in place software that can erase the device’s memory remotely if it is lost or stolen.
IBM’s crackdown also includes Research In Motion BlackBerrys as well as other smartphones and tablets.
Horan isn’t only trying to educate IBM workers about computer security. She’s also enforcing better security. Before an employee’s own device can be used to access IBM networks, the IT department configures it so that its memory can be erased remotely if it is lost or stolen. The IT crew also disables public file-transfer programs like Apple’s iCloud; instead, employees use an IBM-hosted version called MyMobileHub. IBM even turns off Siri, the voice-activated personal assistant, on employees’ iPhones. The company worries that the spoken queries might be stored somewhere.
According to MIT, some 80,000 IBMers use BYOD to access IBM’s networks.
Security measures were tightened after a survey of employees found that many were “blissfully unaware” of security risks posed by these devices, Horan told the magazine.
“We found a tremendous lack of awareness as to what constitutes a risk,” Horan said.
[IBM ARCHIVE: Check out a decade of IBM stories as reported in WRAL Tech Wire by clicking here.]