Hacking becomes latest weapon in London riots (updated)

Summary:Hacktivism has surged this year, but it's taking on a new role in the London riots.

BlackBerry Messenger has been pinpointed as one of the main mediums that rioters in London have been using to communicate and, well, organize themselves, so to speak.

Now Research in Motion, as if they haven't had a bad enough year already, is the caught in the middle.

RIM’s Inside BlackBerry blog was hacked into after the Canadian mobile phone maker agreed to cooperate and help British police forces. As of 9:30AM PT on Tuesday, the site was still down and just looked like a blank page.

And for once, it's not Anonymous or LulzSec behind this security breach but rather an unknown group that is now being referred to as "TeaMp0isoN." The Next Web has the group's statement in full, but here's a snippet of the overt threat to RIM:

You Will _NOT_ assist the UK Police because if u do innocent members of the public who were at the wrong place at the wrong time and owned a blackberry will get charged for no reason at all, the Police are looking to arrest as many people as possible to save themselves from embarrassment…. if you do assist the police by giving them chat logs, gps locations, customer information & access to peoples BlackBerryMessengers you will regret it, we have access to your database which includes your employees information; e.g – Addresses, Names, Phone Numbers etc. – now if u assist the police, we _WILL_ make this information public and pass it onto rioters…. do you really want a bunch of angry youths on your employees doorsteps?

For some, it came as a bit of a surprise that BBM is taking on the primary social media role in this turn of events rather than Twitter, which has been seen in other riots and revolutions in the last two years across the Middle East, most notably in Iran and Egypt.

However, as ZDNet's Zack Whittaker described on Monday, BBM has taken on the role of, and even replaced, standard text messaging for many people in the United Kingdom, so it's not that surprising after all in this case.

And although we've seen a number of attacks on governmental websites from Anonymous and Lulz Security, particularly during the AntiSec campaign that commenced earlier this summer, this occasion is quite different.

The attack is politically motivated, but these hackers chose to go after RIM rather than a London police department website instead. From one perspective, this makes sense as they're trying to cut off the source of information.

Yet, in a comparative incident, Anonymous targeted a Spanish national police force website after three of its own were arrested for allegedly being involved in the attacks on Sony's PlayStation Network.

But also, these hackers are directly threatening RIM employees. Anonymous and LulzSec have made it a point to go after governmental organizations and global corporations, which definitely did trickle down and affect innocent people, but they never threatened any of these people with violence.

Thus, someone has taken note of the power that hack attacks, and now turned it into a weapon that we haven't really seen before.

RIM shouldn't back down from helping U.K. authorities try to suppress these riots. But the breach of RIM's website is serving as a warning to both law enforcement officials and the tech companies working with them about the new face of cyber security threats that is growing in popularity -- especially amongst younger generations -- and it is taking on a much more dangerous tone.

UPDATE: A member of Britain's Parliament has called for RIM to suspend BlackBerry Messenger within the U.K. while the riots continue. While RIM is cooperating with law officials, it's not clear if they will actually bend to this request.

Related:

Topics: Mobile OS, Hardware, Mobility, Security

About

Rachel King is a staff writer for CBS Interactive based in San Francisco, covering business and enterprise technology for ZDNet, CNET and SmartPlanet. She has previously worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. Rachel has also written for MainStreet.com, Irish Americ... Full Bio

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