After spyware fails, UAE gives up and bans BlackBerrys

RIM logoThe United Arab Emirates tends to be one of the more moderate nations in the Persian Gulf region, which may have contributed to its rise as a major financial center. The bankers apparently brought their BlackBerrys with them, creating a small but dedicated group of users on the UAE's local carriers, like Etisalat. But one of the selling points of the BlackBerry—strong encryption between the hardware and RIM's e-mail servers in Canada—hasn't sat well with the UAE's security services. After previous attempts to subvert the encryption, the UAE has now decided to simply ban sales of the devices. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia is considering blocking the use of RIM's instant messaging service.

The problem, from the security service's perspective, is that the e-mails never spend any time where the UAE's security services can examine their contents. In what appeared to be an earlier attempt to get around this issue, Etisalat attempted to get RIM users on its network to install some software that simply took any e-mail that had been decrypted and forwarded it on to a server within the UAE. This effort was quickly discovered, however, and RIM washed its hands of the whole thing publicly.

Now, the UAE has apparently decided that if you can't subvert them, you might as well kill them. As of October, RIM devices will be cut off from Internet access when using carriers based in the UAE. The security services would apparently accept the company setting up a local proxy server for monitoring, but the user population is small enough that RIM may be comfortable walking away from that market instead.

But there are some signs that the UAE isn't alone in this. A BBC report on the same topic mentioned that some BlackBerry services would be banned by Saudi Arabia; both mentioned India being concerned with its inability to monitor traffic from the devices. If other security-conscious nations follow suit, RIM could find that, collectively, the moves would threaten a considerable fraction of its customer base.

Why the apparent ire is focused on the devices themselves rather than the general approach isn't clear. An SSL connection to an offshore e-mail server would seem to create just as much trouble as RIM's approach, but there don't seem to be any efforts afoot to clamp down on other smartphone platforms.

Source: ars technica

Tags: BlackBerry, mobile phones, RIM

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