By Kim Zetter
July 21, 2009
A BlackBerry software upgrade in the Middle East that turned out to be
an e-mail interception program was likely a buggy beta version of a
U.S.-made surveillance product, according to an analyst who dissected
the malicious code.
Sheran Gunasekera, who works as a security consultant in Asia, released
a white paper examining the spyware. (.pdf) Gunasekera said the software
had no protective measures to obfuscate it, making it easy to decompile
and examine - an unusual flaw for a program designed for surreptitious
What's more, command messages sent to the BlackBerry to initiate and
halt interception can be transmitted to the device through e-mail or
BlackBerry's proprietary PIN messaging system. But the PIN messages are
visible on the handheld's screen for a fraction of a second when they
arrive and a copy of commands sent via e-mail appear in the user's
inbox, which would conceivably alert an observant user to suspicious
activity. Gunasekera says the e-mail command function is turned off by
default, apparently because of this glitch.
The spyware came to light when Etisalat, a phone and internet service
provider in the United Arab Emirates, pushed out a message to its more
than 100,000 UAE BlackBerry subscribers on July 8, notifying them that
they needed to install a "performance-enhancement patch" to their
devices. Users complained that after installing the patch, the
performance of their device degraded and the battery drained.
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