UAE BlackBerry users hit by spyware

BlackBerry users in the Mideast business centres of Dubai and Abu Dhabi who were directed by their service provider to upgrade their phones were actually installing spy software that could allow outsiders to peer inside, according to the device's maker.

While many questions about the breach remain unanswered, including who ordered it sent and why, analysts say the disclosure highlights the security risks posed by increasingly popular smart phones like the BlackBerry.



Richard M. Smith, an internet security and privacy consultant at Boston Software Forensics, said smart phones are "the perfect personal spying devices" because as tiny computers they can be programmed to send back a broad range of information.



"This is an evolving threat. As the technology advances, the security problems follow behind," he said.



Research in Motion, the Canadian company that makes the mobile gadgets, said in a statement that it did not authorise the software installation and "was not involved in any way in the testing, promotion or distribution of this software application."

It is directing customers on how to remove the software.



"Independent sources have concluded that it is possible that the installed software could...enable unauthorised access to private or confidential information stored on the user's smart phone," the company said in an eight-page statement strongly distancing itself from the decision to install the software.



The Abu Dhabi-based mobile service provider Etisalat, which is majority owned by the United Arab Emirates government, earlier sent text messages to BlackBerry customers in the country instructing them to follow a link to update their phones.



Etisalat says it has more than 145,000 BlackBerry users in the UAE.



Some customers who installed the new software said it quickly drained the device's batteries, prompting hundreds of complaints to Etisalat and sending users to internet message boards looking for ways to fix the problem.



In a statement issued following complaints last week, Etisalat described the software change as an "upgrade...required for service enhancements." It said the upgrades were required and linked to a handover to the 3G wireless technology standard.



The BlackBerry maker dismissed that explanation.



"RIM is not aware of any technical network concerns with the performance of BlackBerry smart phones on Etisalat's network in the UAE," the company said, adding that it "does not endorse this software application."



Etisalat did not respond to requests for comment.



RIM said the application users unwittingly installed was a surveillance program developed by a privately held Silicon Valley company called SS8 Networks.



SS8 describes itself in a company brochure as "the leader in communications interception and a worldwide provider of regulatory compliant, electronic intercept and surveillance solutions."



It markets its services to intelligence agencies, law enforcement and communication service providers.



A person who answered the phone at SS8's Middle East office in Dubai declined to comment and refused to provide a name. He said the company's regional head, Derek Roga, was out of the country.



A spokesman at the company's headquarters in Milpitas, California, could not be reached.



It is not clear why Etisalat encouraged users to install the application or if any private information was compromised.



The company, one of two major telecommunications providers in the UAE, regularly blocks hundreds of web addresses - ranging from pornographic sites to the photo-sharing portal Flikr.com - in line with state censorship guidelines.



Etisalat operates phone networks in countries throughout the Middle East and Africa, but a Blackberry spokeswoman said the device maker believes the snooping software was sent only to the operator's UAE customers.



Smith, the security and privacy consultant, said a data thief tapping into a smart phone in theory could turn on the microphone to listen in on a private conversation, provide a list of previous calls or send back the user's location.



Bruce Schneier, an author and chief security technology officer at BT, the British telecommunications operator, said smart phones are "not inherently more secure."



"We've mostly been protected because it's annoying and inconvenient to write software for these devices," he said.



The Persian Gulf country is the Arab world's largest economy after Saudi Arabia. Its most populous city Dubai is trying to position itself as a leading commercial hub, making BlackBerry devices popular among its professional elite.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Manchester United's kit for the 2014/15 season
football
News
Nadine Gordimer died peacefully at home yesterday
peopleNobel laureate was a powerful anti-Apartheid voice
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Search Engine Optimisation/ SEO Executive

    £25000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...

    CREST Web Application Tester

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + BENEFITS: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: CREST Web...

    Senior SAP FICO Consultant, £60,000 - £65,000, Manchester

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP FICO Consultant...

    Senior .NET Developer

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: This exciting c...

    Day In a Page

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor