UAE Blackberry Update Is Spyware

Blackberry phones in the United Arab Emirates recently received a text from Etisalat, a major provider in the UAE, prompting for users to download and install an update to enhance performance. It was an ill radio wave that brought that text to phones because it turns out that the “update” downloaded was really software designed to collect received messages and send them back to a central server: essentially spyware.It’s still unknown just why Etisalat, which serves 145,000 Blackberry phones in the UAE, included the surveillance software in the update. RIM’s official tongue lashing (by way of a statement) said that the update not only decreased performance but also that it’s “a telecommunications surveillance application.” Spyware. RIM also states that the “update” was not authorized by the company.

Etisalat contracted a California-based security software firm known as SS8 to design the update– a firm that has “lawful intercept and surveillance solutions” proudly published in clear HTML on the company overview page.

RIM further confirms, in general terms, that a third party patch cannot provide any enhancements
to network services as there is no capability for third parties to develop or modify the low level
radio communications protocols that would be involved in making such improvements to the
communications between a BlackBerry smartphone and a carrier’s network.

Bad Etisalat. Down.

In addition to RIM’s chastisement, a Java programmer, Nigel Gourlay by name, adds his vehement comments to the carrier’s shameful software push (aside from calling Etisalat’s claims “rubbish;” another expert said they were “completely bogus”):

If you want to solve a problem like the one they are referring to – 2G to 3G handover – then you would address that in the firmware and it would be something that BlackBerry would need to do and not something that Etisalat would have any knowledge of doing. Handover is done by the device, not by some code that is implemented using Java. Java is for applications.

Despite all of this hard evidence against Etisalat, the company remains firm in that “upgrades were required for service enhancements” and that this entire unfortunate mishap was merely a “slight technical fault”–not spyware.

Mm, hmm. And that vast assemblage of Furbies weren’t spying on us a few years back, either. We know the truth… and now I’m feeling some unexplainable urge to go get a roll of tinfoil at the market.

In all seriousness: whatever Etisalat’s reasoning behind the obvious surveillance software, they had better spit it out soon or else contrive something fantastical enough to believe. This entire business is both shady and fishy– a dark, dank combination.

In lieu of the sticky software, RIM has developed an application to remove the purported spyware for those who downloaded it. In conclusion, representatives from Reasearch In Motion will be meeting with Etisilat to talk things over on Wednesday. We’ll see what ensues then.


  1. 2009-07-22 5:39 am
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