British spy agency called in to crack BlackBerry encryption

Summary:British intelligence services are attempting to crack the BlackBerry encryption, in order to prevent the spread of further riots.

It wouldn't be the first time that British spooks have cracked a seemingly impossible code.

British intelligence service, MI5 has been drafted in to assist its sister service, GCHQ in cracking the BlackBerry encryption code, in order to find those responsible for disseminating messages which perpetuated riots in London earlier this month.

(Image via Flickr)

While the encryption between Messenger devices is yet to be cracked, police resorted to old fashioned methods to access the BlackBerry Messenger service -- by confiscating phones of those caught rioting.

Amid further disruption across London, the Guardian report that Scotland Yard officers were able to physically access BlackBerry messages, hours before the attacks were meant to take place.

Police would, in case of further riots, find it greatly beneficial to access real-time communications of BlackBerry users, to track where protests and riots may take place. On the other hand, the legalities involved are tetchy.

BlackBerry Messenger is heavily encrypted -- and it is not clear whether Research in Motion, the manufacturer of the young-focused smartphones, is able to hand over the encryption keys. Further to this, it is not clear whether the BlackBerry maker even stores Messenger data on its servers, making further arrests by police difficult.

Earlier this year, GCHQ's government testing service announced that BlackBerrys are secure enough for government use -- leading to questions as to whether BlackBerrys are in fact crackable.

BlackBerrys pose a serious problem for governments and law enforcement when found to be used for illegal or criminal activity.

BlackBerry enterprise email is just as secure as BlackBerry Messenger for the consumer-focused group. Having said that, it is not clear whether Research in Motion has the encryption keys for BlackBerry Messenger -- knowing full well that it doesn't for individual server setups.

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Topics: BlackBerry, Hardware, Mobile OS, Mobility

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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