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Mafia hit suspect cuffed after BlackBerry chatter intercept

Cops keep schtum on sniffing RIM data

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Canadian police have apparently used BlackBerry communications to arrest murder suspect Raynald Desjardins in a move seen as an unprecedented use of intercepted data.

However, it is unclear whether or not the data was really intercepted or whether it was provided to cops via wiretap warrants.

The cuffed bloke has been charged with the murder of Salvatore Montagna, who was killed in November last year and was heavily involved in the New York criminal fraternity according to the Global Montreal. The raid involved searching 14 locations and the arrest of three other suspects, but it's the interception of BlackBerry data that has attracted most attention:

RIM is making the usual noises about respecting users' privacy and working with law enforcement, but anyone familiar with how RIM's network operates shouldn't be surprised by the abilities of prying detectives.

The Canadian police seized at least one BlackBerry during the raid, and once one has possession of the handset then extracting the onboard data is relatively easy, especially if the plod remember not to turn it off, and secure it in a radio-proof bag, as they're supposed to.

But the Canadians probably had access to the communications before they got the handset. RIM's architecture only secures email communications when routed through a privately-owned BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). We don't know if this lot were routing things though their own server, but if not then everything would be routed though RIM's own servers which are open to lawful intercept like any telecommunications hub.

But it is BlackBerry's instant messaging service (BBM) that most people seem to (inappropriately) trust, and which is alluded to in the report.

BBM is indeed encrypted end-to-end, so should be resistant to intercept, if it weren't for the fact that it relies on a single, shared, secret which is embedded in every BlackBerry device. That secret is also know to RIM, which can (be obliged to) decrypt traffic just like everyone else.

These days everyone from London rioters to New York Mafiosi should know that electronic communications is rarely secure from court-backed eavesdropping, but perhaps it's better they don't.

Canadian coppers told the AFP they would not confirm whether they had cracked BlackBerry’s encryption or whether RIM had given them access to its secure servers. The prosecutor in the case was reported by La Presse as saying (French) that he would "advocate for preventing the disclosure of wiretap warrants" and refuse questions from defence attorneys on the subject. ®

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