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BlackBerry bug bugs India

Corporate communications spared, for now

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RIM has put lawful intercept mechanisms in place for the Indian government.

Anyone running their own BES remains secure - at least until the authorities confiscate it.

The solution comes ahead of the end-of-month deadline imposed by India and backed with a threatened block on BlackBerry communications. However, various Indian politicians have demanded (and on occasion claimed to have got) access to all BlackBerry communications - something RIM won't, and can't, provide.

BlackBerry handsets communicate with their BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) over a channel secure using decent encryption and key distribution, making interception all but impossible. If the BES is run by RIM then it can be located in India, so stored emails and other communication can be read by the security forces, with suitable authorisation.

But if the BES is in a corporate office then the only way to read those messages is to grab the server, which is very hard if that server is located abroad. RIM's solution, as described by Reuters, is to effectively position its BES in India, but that might not be enough for the Indian government.

Most countries allow the police and security forces lawful access to the communications of private citizens, with varying levels of judicial oversight, and most people accept it as a reasonable requirement in the fight against organised crime of all kinds.

Secure communications beyond the reach of all but the best-funded government agency is perfectly possible; but few criminals are sufficiently paranoid, or technically literate, to use them. The problem comes when someone like RIM offers a similar level of security in an easy-to-use package.

Hosted email services, like GMail or Hotmail, can get round the problem by providing secure communications with a server located in the same country - and thus exposed to the lawful-intercept rules of that country. Peer-to-peer services such as Skype will have a harder time providing access.

It's those services that the Indians will be targeting next, assuming they don't decide to screw RIM to the ground by demanding access to corporate BES installations. RIM will certainly be hoping the politicians are going to move on and put it out of the firing line for a while. ®

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