RIM denies security kowtowing to governments

Following a BlackBerry service blocks in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Research In Motion has denied that it tailors specific enterprise software to conform to the demands of individual governments
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor on

Research In Motion has strongly rejected reports that it is considering giving certain governments the ability to view encrypted BlackBerry communications.

On Wednesday, RIM hit back at suggestions that it had made changes to its smartphone security to accommodate demands from specific governments. Its statement comes after Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates said they will introduce a ban on encrypted BlackBerry services.

"RIM cooperates with all governments with a consistent standard and the same degree of respect. Any claims that we provide, or have ever provided, something unique to the government of one country that we have not offered to the governments of all countries, are unfounded," the Canadian company said in the statement.

Specifically, RIM stressed that the enterprise security architecture in its BlackBerry smartphones has been designed to make it impossible for RIM or third parties to read any encrypted data that goes over the BlackBerry network.

"The BlackBerry enterprise solution was designed to preclude RIM — or any third party — from reading encrypted information under any circumstances since RIM does not store or have access to the encrypted data," the company said.

RIM's software encrypts certain BlackBerry communications and routes them through RIM servers in Canada, making it difficult for governments to monitor the traffic and read the contents of the messages.

"Within BlackBerrys some, but not all, communications have what's called a tunnel between BlackBerry and servers in Canada. That's what is probably bothering the Saudis, and it could be bothering our people [UK security agencies] as well," Spamhaus Project chief information officer Richard Cox told ZDNet UK.

While RIM's discussions with the Saudi and UAE governments failed to avert bans, the company has come up with a compromise in India, according to an unnamed top Indian security official quoted in an Economic Times report. According to the report, RIM has responded to pressure from India's security establishment to provide a back door into users' emails by providing a way to track emails without sharing encryption details.

RIM may soon face storms over security and users accessing pornographic websites in Egypt and Kuwait, according to other reports.

Cox noted that as iPhones can now legally be jailbroken, there is nothing to stop iPhone owners from installing applications on their smartphones to gain the same security features that BlackBerry users have. "If you can put something on there that can do Internet Relay Chat [IRC], it is not that difficult to make sure that the connection is encrypted. Similarly, you can put a VoIP app on," he said.

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