Information Warfare: Don't Block My Berry, Dude

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September 6, 2010: The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, India and Indonesia are all pressuring smart phone maker BlackBerry to allow access to the encrypted messages sent between BlackBerry users. The countries demanding this have come to believe that Western nations have this ability. RIM, which makes the BlackBerry and runs the communications for BlackBerry users, has, with some difficulty, convinced the governments demanding decryption keys that this was not possible. The reason why the BlackBerry is the most popular smart phone for business and government users is because the encryption is virtually unbreakable, and intercepting it gets you nothing. But apparently RIM did have some bones they could throw these governments, who did have legitimate concerns about terrorists using BlackBerrys. RIM offered information on who was sending messages where. This data is also normally hidden by RIM's data system (which supports all BlackBerrys worldwide, via servers in Canada, where RIM is headquartered.) Some of these governments, however, are less concerned with terrorists than with local opponents to the government in power.

Meanwhile, Israel has joined France and, to a lesser extent, the United States, in producing a cell phone technology that enables troops and government officials to use their cell phones for discussing secret stuff. The Israel approach is to create an encrypted military cell phone network, that a special model of an existing cell phone will be able to use. This is similar to the RIM solution. Late last year, a French firm  developed a cell phone cryptography technology strong enough to satisfy French government and NATO security standards. The president of France was pleased, and his subordinates were relieved, because their boss is an enthusiastic smart phone user.

Smart phones are popular because they can do so much, particularly accessing the Internet. However, wireless devices, especially cell phones, give military and government security officials a very bad feeling. But in the last few years, several prominent heads-of-state (including the current American president), who were avid smart phone users, came to power. They were all told by their security personnel that smart phones were not secure enough (from eavesdropping) for the head of a major nation to use. But when you are the top guy in the government, you can order subordinates to find solutions, or else. The U.S. president got a customized version of his favorite Blackberry phone, with security features installed. American troops, in particular, are eager to get something similar, so they can legally use their cell phones in combat zones.

These secure smart phones are showing up in greater numbers, from a lot more companies. By next year, some 20,000 senior French government officials will have the new, secure, smart phones. Meanwhile, smart phones like the Blackberry are increasingly under attack by hackers, and have been shown to be vulnerable. The threat is real, and the solution has yet to undergo, and survive, a serious attack.

 

 


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