Concerns over BlackBerry Spyware in UAE

surveillance_250x251UAE telecommunications company Etisalat, based in Dubai, issued an over the air software update to its 150,000 BlackBerry users last week in an attempt to ‘improve performance’. Many of these customers installed the ‘patch’ but quickly complained that it had a negative effect on their devices, rendering them almost useless due to a significantly reduced battery life.

On investigation it was found that the ‘patch’ was a piece of spyware developed by American surveillance firm SS8 who develop ‘communication intercepts’ and ‘surveillance solutions’ for intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

This has caused a great deal of concern considering that telecommunications company Etisalat is owned by the UAE government and has highlighted the threat of mobile phones being used to implement a police state. The spyware installed on the BlackBerry devices was found to be sending personal information, including the contents of emails, to a central location presumably where they were being screened for ‘sensitive material’.

BlackBerry manufacturers Research in Motion (RIM) have been quick to point out that the ‘patch’ was not an official BlackBerry update and they had nothing to do with its development or distribution saying there was no need for customers to install the software that was claimed by Etisalat to be required for compatibility with 3G networks. BlackBerry have already issued free software to completely remove the intrusive software from their devices. It seems that had the spyware not been so badly written and caused BlackBerry devices to become unusable the surveillance software might never have been uncovered, raising some serious concerns about privacy.


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