Feeds

BlackBerry update bursting with spyware

Official snooping suspected in UAE

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

An update pushed out to BlackBerry users on the Etisalat network in the United Arab Emirates appears to contain remotely-triggered spyware that allows the interception of messages and emails, as well as crippling battery life.

Sent out as a WAP Push message, the update installs a Java file that one curious customer decided to take a closer look at, only to discover an application intended to intercept both email and text messages, sending a copy to an Etisalat server without the user being aware of anything beyond a slightly excessive battery drain.

It was, it seems, the battery issue that alerted users to something being wrong. Closer examination (as reported by itp.net) seems to indicate that all instances of the application were expected to register with a central server, which couldn't cope with the traffic - thus forcing all the instances to repeatedly attempt to connect while draining the battery. A more phased reporting system might have escaped detection completely.

The update is labelled: "Etisalat network upgrade for BlackBerry service. Please download to ensure continuous service quality." The signed JAR file, when opened, reveals an application housed in a directory named "/com/ss8/interceptor/app", which conforms to the Java standard for application trees to be named the reverse of the author's URL. ("Interceptor" isn't the subtlest name for spyware, though.)

SS8, however, does author applications of exactly this type, and further reverse-engineering of the Java app shows code capable of intercepting messages and copying them to remote servers - a process that starts once a trigger message (containing the word "start" and originating from a specific number) has been received.

No one from Etisalat, RIM, or SS8 is saying anything about the issue, despite the fact that the application appears remarkably difficult to remove. Enterprising hackers, though, have discovered it can be done, with one providing a useful utility (seventh message down) to automate the process.

While text messages and phone calls are usually more easily intercepted at the network operator, the BlackBerry architecture doesn't lend itself to that kind of legally-authorised interception, which has caused problems in several other countries. It seems probable that this application was an attempt by the authorities to circumvent that architecture, and it will be interesting to see if a similar application appears on competing UAE operators.

That's assuming anyone notices - the application could have been missed entirely. Once it was installed and registered with the server it would have lain dormant until the operator decided to activate it, presumably only on a few phones owned by people of particular interest to the authorities.

Hopefully punters will be a little more careful when considering a downloaded update, although it's possible the operators may in turn get a little better at hiding it. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
FYI: OS X Yosemite's Spotlight tells Apple EVERYTHING you're looking for
It's on by default – didn't you read the small print?
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
NOT OK GOOGLE: Android images can conceal code
It's been fixed, but hordes won't have applied the upgrade
Apple grapple: Congress kills FBI's Cupertino crypto kybosh plan
Encryption would lead us all into a 'dark place', claim G-Men
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.