Criminals pick BlackBerries to thwart eavesdropping police

Criminals pick BlackBerries to thwart eavesdropping police
Criminals pick BlackBerries to thwart eavesdropping police

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By Chad Skelton
CanWest News Service
Vancouver Sun
October 08, 2007

VANCOUVER -- Police often say organized crime in B.C. is big business. 
So perhaps it was only a matter of time before gangsters adopted the 
device of choice among corporate workaholics: the BlackBerry.

It has become so popular among B.C. gang members that an internal RCMP 
"threat assessment" on organized crime produced this year devotes an 
entire section to the device.

"It's something we've seen increasing over the last three to four 
years," Staff Sgt. Bruce Imrie, head of the RCMP's Vancouver Integrated 
Technological Crime Unit, said in an interview. And that poses a big 
challenge for law enforcement, because encryption and security features 
make the devices much harder to wiretap than land lines or cellphones.

"The BlackBerry (server) was created with corporate data security in 
mind," states the RCMP report, obtained by The Vancouver Sun through the 
Access to Information Act. "Until recently, this system was only 
affordable by companies such as Telus, CIBC, and the like; they are now 
more affordable and it is easy for individuals to set-up a network."

Imrie confirmed when police get a warrant for a criminal's BlackBerry 
messages it can be difficult to intercept them.

"The use of BlackBerries may allow them to circumvent lawful access ... 
(with) the encryption involved in the transmission," said Imrie.

Even when police confiscate a criminal's actual BlackBerry, he said, 
cracking its password to view the messages stored on it can be a 

BlackBerries are most popular among a gang's highest-ranking members, 
said Imrie.

"Your general street-level criminal doing organized shoplifting is not 
as likely to have a BlackBerry as your high-end drug trafficker," he 
said. "(And) depending on the sophistication of the criminal 
organization, the use of the BlackBerry seems to increase."

However, as BlackBerries become more affordable, that distinction is 
starting to blur, he said, with the devices becoming more prevalent 
among all types of criminals.

RCMP Insp. Gary Shinkaruk, head of biker gang investigations in B.C., 
said BlackBerries are "extremely common" among the criminals his unit 

"For a lot of groups, it's standard practice," he said.

Research In Motion, the Canadian company that makes the BlackBerry, did 
not respond to a request from The Sun to comment on its security 

However in June, Scott Totzke, RIM's vice-president of global security, 
told The Times of London that its encryption is virtually unbreakable.

"Every message that is sent via a BlackBerry is broken up into 2Kb 
(kilobyte) packets of information, each of which is given a 256-bit key 
by the BlackBerry server," said Totzke. "That means to release the 
contents of a 10Kb e-mail, a person would have to crack five separate 
keys, and each one would take about as long as it would for the sun to 
burn out - billion of years."

The 500-page RCMP report, titled the Integrated Threat Assessment on 
Organized Crime, is produced each year.

The copy released to The Sun was heavily edited, with the RCMP deleting 
many sections for security reasons.

=C2=A9 CanWest News Service 2007

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