Researcher: BlackBerry Spyware Wasn't Ready for Prime Time

Researcher: BlackBerry Spyware Wasn't Ready for Prime Time
Researcher: BlackBerry Spyware Wasn't Ready for Prime Time 

By Kim Zetter 
Threat Level
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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