BlackBerry’s encryption key has been accessible to police for SIX YEARS
Whatever else you can say for BlackBerry, the brand has always been associated with privacy and security. That’s in danger of being permanently tarnished following an explosive report from Vice, which reveals that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have had access to BlackBerry’s master encryption key for six years.
How is less clear: court documents are heavily redacted as they often are, but the same papers reveal that Canadian police have a server in Ottawa that “
How is less clear: court documents are heavily redacted as they often are, but the same papers reveal that Canadian police have a server in Ottawa that “simulates a mobile device that receives a message intended for [the rightful recipient]”. The police were then able to decrypt the messages using the master key and read the potentially incriminating contents. And they did: between 2010 and 2012, more than one million messages were intercepted, according to the report.
A couple of caveats here that are genuinely worth highlighting: the first is that it’s not clear whether the key has changed, or indeed whether the Canadian police still use this tactic. Second, BlackBerry offers businesses enterprise-grade encryption, allowing them to use their own keys, making them immune to this particular brand of police snooping.
It’s also not clear to what degree BlackBerry was co-operating with the police, and to what degree officers took matters into their own hands, although the documents do suggest some level of co-operation. In one transcript, the RCMP’s Mark Flynn commented that details of the encryption key could damage the company, saying: “It is not a good marketing thing to say we work with the police.”
Still, if there’s one positive that privacy enthusiasts can cling to from this story, it’s that having access to BlackBerry’s encryption keys has obviously been victim to the law of diminishing returns, as this sorry-looking graph shows:
Then again, the one positive BlackBerry has had in recent years is the security of the BBM messaging service, hence its popularity among rioters in London back in 2011. Take that away, and most people would struggle to find any reasons to buy BlackBerry in 2016 aside from sheer bloody-mindedness.
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Image: Karlis Dambrans used under Creative Commons