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BlackBerry to open code for security check
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Canada's Research in Motion (RIM) has for the first time agreed to allow Indian security agencies to monitor its BlackBerry services, in an attempt to avert an outright government ban.

The company has offered to share with security agencies its technical codes for corporate email services, open up access to all consumer emails within 15 days and also develop tools in 6 to 8 months to allow monitoring of chats, telecom department documents (dated August 2) available with ET show.

In an internal note, the telecom department said RIM had agreed to come around, following serious pressure from the Indian government. RIM will provide further details on its proposals to the telecom ministry on Tuesday, following which the communications ministry will ask the home ministry and Intelligence Bureau to take a call on whether these solutions adequately address their concerns, documents available with ET add.

The stakes are indeed huge for RIM since corporate email has been the USP of BlackBerry handsets, enabling the company to tap into the country’s expanding high-flier executive flock.

The latest developments come even as BlackBerry-maker RIM faced its first major ban last Sunday, after the UAE said the service was being barred from October 11 due to security risks. The UAE, which is home to the financial hub of Dubai, said it would halt BlackBerry services till an acceptable solution that would allow the government to monitor these services were developed and applied by RIM. Saudi Arabia is expected to follow suit and news agencies quoted officials at its state-controlled Saudi Telecom stating that the kingdom would ban BlackBerry messenger services.

RIM executives had presented these compromise solutions to India’s telecom department during meetings on July 27 and July 30. These meetings were held after the Indian government had given RIM a 15-day deadline, ending July, to ensure that its email and other data services comply with ‘formats that can be read by security and intelligence agencies’.

With regard to its general consumer email, RIM has said the services provided by Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Essar, Loop and Tata can already be monitored. RIM also assured that it is working with mobile phone companies like Aircel, BSNL, MTNL, Idea and Reliance Communications to install the requisite infrastructure to ensure that general consumer emails offered by these firms are in formats that can monitored by security agencies within the next 15 days, documents with the telecom ministry said.

Voice and SMS services on BlackBerry handsets can be intercepted by security agencies here, the DoT’s internal note adds.

The Intelligence Bureau had recently issued a warning against the BlackBerry services. At present, BlackBerry-maker RIM has close to a million customers, and along with Nokia, collectively account for all the corporate email consumers on mobile phones in India. The Intelligence Bureau had recently asked the telecom department to stop Nokia’s popular messaging services in India until they can be monitored, another sign of the growing discomfort of the country’s spooks with similar offerings they view as suspect from a security angle.

During its meeting with the telecom department officials, RIM explained that corporate emails sent via the BlackBerry handset are sent in an encrypted format. This encryption code first scrambles the emails sent from a BlackBerry device and unscrambles it when the message reaches its target. The encrypted email is sent to the Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) located in the premises of the corporate that avails of this service. In the BES, this email is stored in the decrypted format, but when the message is pushed back to the BlackBerry handset of the receiver, it is again sent in an encrypted format. RIM executives also explained that the only way security agencies can access these emails in the decrypted form is at the email server.


“After some persuasion, the (BlackBerry) representative agreed that they can provide the Metadata of the message ie the IP address of the BES and PIN & IMEI of the BlackBerry mobile. The concerned internet service provider can also tell the location of the services as well. From these information, the security agencies can easily locate the BES and obtain the decrypted message. They also stated that they have a setup to help the security agencies in tracking the messages in which security agencies are interested in,” the DoT’s internal note recording these meetings add.

More on this :ET
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