WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon said it has cleared Apple devices for use on its networks, setting the stage for the maker of iPhones and iPads to compete with Samsung Electronics and BlackBerry for military sales.
The Defense Department said in a statement that it has approved the use of government-issued Apple products running a version of the iOS 6 mobile platform.
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The decision eventually may spur a three-way fight for a market long dominated by BlackBerry. The Pentagon on May 2 approved Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung's devices, as well as BlackBerry 10 smartphones and BlackBerry PlayBook tablets.
"It's a big deal," Brian White, an analyst at New York- based Topeka Capital Markets Inc., said in a phone interview. "Apple has had a big push into the enterprise and government. This is definitely a positive step in that initiative."
The approval demonstrates Apple's "ongoing commitment to deliver a secure platform to our enterprise and government customers around the world who deploy iOS devices on their networks," Trudy Muller, a spokeswoman for the Cupertino, Calif.-based company, said in an email.
Scott Totzke, senior vice president for BlackBerry security at the Waterloo, Ontario-based company, played down the significance of Apple's achievement.
"Technical certifications are an important but only first, 'threshold' step in meeting the needs of truly secure mobile computing for government," he said in an emailed statement. "Security, reliability and the ability to perform in crisis situations when you depend on mobility are all import hallmarks of the BlackBerry solution."
The Pentagon has depended on BlackBerrys, which have consistently received federal certification for protecting sensitive data.
The Defense Department has more than 600,000 mobile devices, including 470,000 BlackBerrys, 41,000 Apple products and 8,700 devices running Google's Android operating system, according to the department. Many of the Apple and Android products in use aren't connected to military networks except for testing.
BlackBerry's Pentagon devices represent a fraction of the company's 76 million subscribers worldwide. At the same time, the military's security endorsement is an influential standard that may sway commercial and government customers concerned about breaches.
The decision Friday won't lead to an immediate boost in Apple's government sales. The company's products, along with Samsung and the newly approved BlackBerry devices, won't be allowed to connect to military networks until a secure device- management system is in place, said Mark Orndorff, a program officer with the department's Defense Information Systems Agency.
"All of these pieces must be in place to allow the secure use of commercial mobile devices on department networks," Orndorff said in the statement Friday.
The Pentagon's plan has drawn criticism from cybersecurity officials who say opening the networks to Apple and Samsung devices creates additional risks.
There is no technology that would make those companies' smartphones and tablets immune to new malicious software known as malware, said Pat McGarry, principal systems engineer at Ixia, a network security company based in Calabasas, Calif.
Orndorff has said that Samsung, Apple and the newly approved BlackBerry devices "pose an acceptable risk for unclassified communications" when used with a mobile-device management system. Testing will continue to ensure the products are secure, he said.
"There is risk to any type of infusion of technology," Henry Sienkiewicz, vice chief information assurance executive at the defense information agency, said in a phone interview. "The key is to understanding and mitigating it."
Still, he said he expects the military to be able to use the devices "interchangeably across the force structure."
Samsung, the largest seller of smartphones for commercial use, worked with the U.S. National Security Agency to create a secure version of Google's Android operating system with multiple layers of software and hardware protection, Tim Wagner, a Samsung vice president, has said.
The Galaxy S4 released in April will be the first smartphone using the new system, known as Knox, according to Samsung.
The military has said it wants employees to have the flexibility to use commercial products on its networks. It plans to create a military mobile applications store and hire a contractor to build a system that may handle as many as 8 million devices.