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Dubai's Police Chief Calls BlackBerry a Spy Tool 215

Posted by Soulskill
from the my-name-is-michael-westen dept.
crimeandpunishment writes "Does the battle over the Blackberry ban in the United Arab Emirates have its roots in a spy story? Dubai's police chief says concern over espionage (specifically, by the US and Israel) led to the decision to limit BlackBerry services. The UAE says it will block BlackBerry email, messaging, and web services on October 11th unless it gets access to encrypted data. Comments by Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim are often seen as reflecting the views of Dubai's leadership, and would appear to indicate a very hard line in talks with Research in Motion."
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Dubai's Police Chief Calls BlackBerry a Spy Tool

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  • by Dyinobal (1427207) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @02:21AM (#33479992)
    Shoes are also a well known spy tool. 99.999% of all spys use them.
  • Is a much better spy tool. And you cannot block all email to and from all servers!
    • PGP does have one weakness that an encrypted blackberry server wouldn't have though. Namely that it's still possible to determine who a person is sending mail to. Now good spys would set up an elaborate relay system, but we have seen how clumsy "superspys" can be with technology on occasion....
      • by Cwix (1671282)

        You'd think spies would make use of some sort of onion routing.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onion_routing [wikipedia.org]

        • Onion routing still doesn't prevent the authorities from eavesdropping communications between the isp and the spy, it would just make spying on anything after that incredibly difficult. Ultimately if you really want protection just buy a satellite phone that allows for end to end encryption, it's more expensive but worth every scheckel.
          • by AK Marc (707885)
            Throw-away Gmail accounts and encryption would be cheaper, simpler, and just as "safe" assuming no one person is captured and new emails are used for every action. And a country that really wanted to could block or track satphones (who they talk to, if not obfuscated, but not what they say, if encrypted). And it really sucks that they don't work indoors. Skype on a data network would be easier, or just use a SIP client, or an encrypted SIP client or any of a variety of ways that are just as safe (and muc
          • by Tacvek (948259)

            How would onion routing not prevent that? The messages to the onion router are encrypted, so the ISP can see that the user is using encrypted comms, but has no idea who is receiving the encrypted message.

            Onion routing is based on an incomplete earlier anonymous remailing system created by a subset of the TOR team (the type II system: Mixminion). The routing was similar technically, except that a message would normally have ten relays rather than 3. Besides the messages being encrypted, the links between nod

      • That's what TLS is for.

    • Re:PGP (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TyFoN (12980) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @04:08AM (#33480326)

      And with APG [thialfihar.org] and k9mail [google.com] on Android [android.com] this is simple to use on a mobile phone. I bet the UAE (and the USA) government would have a fit if everyone sent emails with 4096 bit encryption.

  • You have to wonder if this guy isn't looking for some kind of promotion. The easiest way to go from nobody to somebody is to get noticed.
    • by ToasterMonkey (467067) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @02:45AM (#33480066) Homepage

      So if RIM were a Chinese company, or better - Iranian, or say head quartered in Dubai, would you have any problems with BlackBerries being used by the majority of our government officials & heads of industry? These people have more than enough reason to be wary of our intelligence services.
      Without knowing any specifics, you should at least have a _little_ faith in their (our intel) capabilities. It's just a little silly to think the rest of the world is just a bunch of tinfoil hat types when it's no secret that we, and everybody else do pay people to collect information on, stuff. AKA spy.

      • by Peeteriz (821290) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @03:36AM (#33480246)

        RIM has made it known that they are giving the encryption keys to BlackBerry communications to various governments - ergo, it makes some sense for Saudi Arabia to say that Saudi businessmen are not allowed to use them despite the convenience, due to risk of business espionage by foreign governments.

        • RIM has made it known that they are giving the encryption keys to BlackBerry communications to various governments

          Citation needed.

          I know I would not trust or use a form of communications for what I want to keep private if government, any government, was able to read messages. People have already complained they don't want Indian government employees giving Indian businesses that compeat access to their communications. And where government has that access someone can buy access as well.

          Falcon

      • If they were all passing through Blackberry's central servers, then sure, I'd be worried. However if they had their own BES and were doing end-to-end encryption to it (which it will do, that's why the US government uses them)? Then no.

        Also I'd be far more worried about regular cell phones and the like, I'd think the NSA would have a much easier time monitoring those.

        This Blackberry shit really looks like BS. It looks like corrupt officials want to get access to what is happening in their country so they can

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DDLKermit007 (911046)
          Well China is a fairly easy target to beatup. Seeing as how government officials have repeatedly been showing willingness to screw over one party, or a foreign business group for the benefit of someone they know. There, the government is just a partner of your business. If they aren't? You can bet your ass they'll be helping your competitor because you wern't in lock step with them.
      • What I was also going to say is: If I was a counter-intelligence chief and particularly one in a country where the government could force their will internally easier than the US, and I was concerned about a device being used to spy, I'd push to have the device banned. We'd work to get rid of them and run public education campaigns letting people know that they could be spied on using them. That is how to make it safe. I wouldn't ask for access to the data. That gets me nothing in terms of preventing others

  • nice marketing (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fadethepolice (689344)
    all the news lately makes me want to buy a blackberry.
  • we can't read your encrypted messages and are too stupid or too lazy to crack them ourselves, so won't you please give us the golden master keys to the kingdom?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Nursie (632944)

      You mean just like the US and UK governments do through legal or extra-legal means? Installing data taps in ISP and telephone providers operations centres? Demanding encryption keys from companies and private citizens alike?

      Let's not pretend that these are tinpot developing nations - these guys are following the example set by #1!

  • in countries that pay a premium on authoritarianism?

    the only thing i wonder is why is this story happening in 2010 and not earlier?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Western intelligence services already have access to Blackberry servers - and had for years.

      Beyond actual wiretap API interfaces provided by RIM there's also a net of broad packet-capture: as had been documented in detail here on Slashdot, AT&T had been running raw, spliced optical cables straight to the NSA headquarters since late 2001, carrying most of the raw IP traffic in the USA - including most unencrypted Blackberry emails as well.

      Any new encrypted service that offers no access for intelligence a

  • by sl149q (1537343) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @02:41AM (#33480058)

    What is so special about RIM security (speaking as a non-RIM user here...)?

    If I have a Blackberry (or any smartphone, say Android or iPhone) don't I just point at a mail server with IMAP and pick up stuff with SSL/TLS? Are the "spies" so stupid that they wouldn't just point a a non RIM mail server?

    And as mentioned above then you can start using PGP for the content as well.

    • Fortunately, most spies and terrs really are that stupid.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by oiron (697563)

      Another non-blackberry user here, but from what I understand, what they provide is something like PGP on top of mail; your message gets encrypted using a private/public key system such that it's not vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks, which SSL/TLS (https/imaps) can be susceptible to.

    • by Lehk228 (705449) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @03:41AM (#33480262) Journal
      the blackberry connects to RIM and RIM connects to your email, or if you are corporate the blackberry points to the corporate BES server, the link between the handset and RIM or between the handset and your company's BES server is heavilly encrypted, and in the case of BES servers even RIM cannot access the data, only your company's security staff and other authorized users, making it suitable for communicating confidential and trade secret information that a regular smartphone should not be handling. BES is also able to remotely control security settings and initiate a secure wipe.
      • Get an iPhone or windows mobile and get yourself a hosted exchange account in anoter country. Same deal only not centralized like rim.

        If I were to travel to UAE with my iPhone would they block the encrypted link to my Exchange server?

        • by Lehk228 (705449)
          if your company has a BES server it's not centralized, it all goes through your corporate BES server.
        • Get an iPhone or windows mobile and get yourself a hosted exchange account in anoter country. Same deal only not centralized like rim.

          Businesses can set up their own Blackberry Enterprise Server [blackberry.com], so Blackberries can be decentralized.

          Falcon

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Quality point to point encryption via Canada is the big seller.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drolli (522659)

      Also speaking as a non-RIM user:

      does your phone warn you if you encounter a changed ssl certificate for the domain your mail client is connecting to?

      • by trapnest (1608791)
        I powered up a blackberry that had been off for a few years. The clock was set to not get the current time from the network and was set to some time in 2007, making most (if not all) of the security certificates invalid. The Blackberry displayed a warning dialog for every connection till we corrected the date. So yes, BBs do warn for invalid certs.
        • by drolli (522659)

          my comment was about the other phones. I hope BBs check the certificate. i know other phones cant do it correctly.

  • The rulers of Dubai wants to know what the CEO of Haliburton [wikipedia.org] is doing.

    Or they just want to be sure that its harder for the rest of the world find out about its dark side [independent.co.uk].

    Just as well I was already planing to never visit the place.
  • If only he knew. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by stalkedlongtime (1630997) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @03:01AM (#33480136) Journal
    It's
  • It's practically a given that TEMPEST-like capabilities moved to satellites, decades ago. Combine that with ECHELON or something like it, and everything that everyone is displaying on their screens (Internet-connected or not) is probably being hoovered up by at least one intelligence agency. Including what's on the screens of those precious Blackberries.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Panaflex (13191)

      TEMPEST at a few hundred feet is pretty remarkable... you think it can be done in a satellite 50 miles high? Plus there's considerations such as the van allen belt and the ionosphere acting upon wavelength propagation, never mind the noise and attenuation distortions wielded upon an 2GHz+ clock rate of a typical system bus, or voltage balanced and shielded video cables at such great distances.

      Now if you're thinking about satellite sweeping for wifi or cellular then it would be almost a given and certainly

  • by Ilgaz (86384) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @03:08AM (#33480164) Homepage

    Everyone in civilized/democratic places, especially large businesses which are RIM's real market are watching these news.

    If Blackberry is magically loved in those territories, it means they handed the keys to them and people will immediately think they are _already_ being watched for a long time.

    I really think RIM should consider getting OUT of these markets instead of losing the image of secure communications. Once they lose it, it will be like a domino.

    Look to Youtube, a certain country said "pull this video, pull that, setup office here, pay taxes". You know what Youtube did? Ignored! Don't they lose money/marketshare? Of course they do.

    It is a closed system, that is where they lose. Nokia or Apple can say "hey, they are enabling SSL on IMAP, there is absolutely nothing we can do." RIM, as there is a central server, can't do it.

    It is always and always about open standards.

    • by Lehk228 (705449)
      i would rather see an option for handset to handset crypto, allow secure messages between non-BES handsets and handsets on different BES servers. they could use the barcode scan system that the latest version of BB messenger uses to add friends using the screen and camera
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mxs (42717)

      Look to Youtube, a certain country said "pull this video, pull that, setup office here, pay taxes". You know what Youtube did? Ignored! Don't they lose money/marketshare? Of course they do.

      Sorry to burst your bubble, but that is simply not true. Try surfing YouTube in Germany, for instance. Lots and LOTS of videos are pulled or "not available in your country", they do pay out some local media conglomerates, and, guess what, Google has offices here too.

      • I am curious how many of those videos are unavailable because Google can't legally distribute them under copyright law (or contractual agreement, etc), or because they can't legally distribute them under offensiveness statutes.

        At least with the latter Google can't be sued in the US for their actions in foreign markets.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Everyone in civilized/democratic places, especially large businesses which are RIM's real market are watching these news.

      If Blackberry is magically loved in those territories, it means they handed the keys to them and people will immediately think they are _already_ being watched for a long time.

      I don't know about you, but I in particular live in a country where the government is known to have tapped all long distance voice calls and all internet traffic. Obviously they can't scan all internet traffic for keywords but they can scan a subset. To me, to believe that the US government is NOT listening in on crackberries would be the height of naivety.

    • by Kjella (173770)

      Look to Youtube, a certain country said "pull this video, pull that, setup office here, pay taxes". You know what Youtube did? Ignored! Don't they lose money/marketshare? Of course they do.

      YouTube got it easy, they don't have to "shut down" anything. It's highly unlikely users will get harassed for finding a way to visit YouTube. I think there's even legislation in place to prevent a US-based service from being arsed by foreign libel lawsuits and the like. RIM is a physical product, they probably have offices with a lease, people with work contracts and most of all if they'd harass everyone with a Blackberry or worse, confiscate them then that would have a rather big business impact. It might

    • Open standards or ActiveSync with exchange. Gives you the same basic features as BES (encrypted traffic, remote wipe, and policy enforcement) without a central network.

      Each exchange server uses it's own ssl certain

  • https is a spy tool too? If i go with https to gmail, and post anything, unless they have a keylogger or something similar in whatever im using to access it, functionally are in the same situation. Worse, what about crypto tech? Tor?
  • by ChipMonk (711367) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @03:48AM (#33480284) Journal
    In the hands of a skilled person, including a skilled spy, anything can be useful for any purpose. Even a common orange has its place in a spy's toolkit. Do you really think that's chewing gum in his mouth?

    Every tool has uses that conformists never ponder. Critical thinkers are already ahead of the curve of every government. Of course, no government is willing to admit it (out loud).
    • by jd2112 (1535857)

      In the hands of a skilled person, including a skilled spy, anything can be useful for any purpose. Even a common orange has its place in a spy's toolkit. Do you really think that's chewing gum in his mouth?

      Even Paris Hilton has 'Special' gum....

      • In the hands of a skilled person, including a skilled spy, anything can be useful for any purpose. Even a common orange has its place in a spy's toolkit. Do you really think that's chewing gum in his mouth?

        Even Paris Hilton has 'Special' gum....

        Yes, and she is glad to see you.

  • Doesn't BHO have a custom BB that's had the security improved to meet special NSA requirements? Or would be now be using some other PDA?

    I guess he'll no longer be able to take his BB with him to Dubai.

  • Damn, even the spys are just phoning it in now.

  • Very well.

    I call Dubai's police chief a Tool.
  • The real issue (Score:5, Informative)

    by lewko (195646) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @05:06AM (#33480476) Homepage

    Dubai's police chief says concern over espionage (specifically, by the US and Israel) led to the decision to limit BlackBerry services.

    Well of course he would say that. Despotic Arab regimes have always used the US and Israel as an excuse for their own totalitarianism and oppression of minorities.

    The article details the real reason, as if it wasn't obvious:
    Tamim told a conference on information technology that the proposed BlackBerry curbs are also "meant to control false rumors and defamation of public figures due to the absence of surveillance,"

    Translation: It promotes freedom of expression, and limits the government's ability to control its people, which frightens the shit out of Arab dictators.

  • Say that there's a group of people connected to some country that is opposed to US and its interests. There's a fair amount of resentment towards the US and its culture, and the country isn't exactly known as peace-loving and dovish. These people could be semi-official (non-legal spies from their embassies), or they could be private people working for this country.

    US intelligence people find out about these people, try to track them, see what they're up to. Unfortunately, a lot of their communication is goi

  • India (Score:3, Insightful)

    by guyminuslife (1349809) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @05:17AM (#33480514)
    Is it just me, or is it that since RIM's shown that they'd give ground to world governments (even if it's a face-saving maneuver, as some here have said), that everybody and their brother now wants access to their servers?
  • by daveime (1253762) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @06:04AM (#33480610)

    Having spent a couple of years in the UAE back in the 90's, I can tell you the ban has NOTHING to do with spying, and everything to do with Etisalat (the national phone company) desire to control all aspects of IT in the country.

    Years ago, at the advent of the mobile, you could get one (1) model of phone in Abu Dhabi ... the "Hud Hud 1" was the model name, I remember it fondly, with it's external antenna that almost took your eye out, and it's inability to hold a call for more than 5 minutes. You couldn't even use it indoors, I had to sit outside in the bloody desert with only camel spiders for company, to call my girlfriend who worked in Abu Dhabi city. Text hadn't even been invented, so it was calls only.

    There was one (1) phone model, one (1) line provider, one (1) internet provider, one (1) e-mail service, and it was All Etisalat provided.

    Now, 12 years, later, there is a few more phone models, but still only one (1) line provider, one (1) internet provider, one (1) e-mail service ... wanna take a guess who it is ?

    Whichever of Sheikh Khalifa's brothers is running Etisalat doesn't want his business fucked up, and the possibility of anyone using IT without Etisalat getting their pound of flesh is unthinkable. THAT is why they are putting the screws on RIM.

  • by Dunbal (464142) *

    The blackberry is a spy tool then surely the Dubai police are terrorists...

  • Dubai can have no direct military interests from us as they are essentially an unarmed society. But I would bet money that we do keep tabs to see if governments are supporting terrorist groups in near by states. If the politics of the region cause Dubai to be pumping money to the Taliban then Dubai becomes a legitimate target for our military. We also need to know if Dubai is supporting Iran.

  • You don't think that they haven't given the same access to the US and Israeli governments, do you?

    LK

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