UAE Spies on Blackberry Users

The LATimes story pulls no punches.  When Blackberry users in the United Arab Emirates downloaded what was billed as a routine OS upgrade, they in fact were installing spyware that, to quote the LATimes, “gives the state-controlled service provider Etisalat unfettered access to their personal mobile devices.”

Nouveau riche Dubai is the centerpiece of the UAE, meaning that thousands of westerners may have downloaded this spyware, which lets the UAE telco read all email on the devices.   According to the BBC, there are 145,000 Blackberry subscribers in the UAE.

Says RIM, the Blackberry manufacter: “Independent sources have concluded that the Etisalat update is not designed to improve performance of your BlackBerry, but rather to send received messages back to a central server.”

What’s unclear is why the UAE decided to attempt to read all messages on users smartphones.

One irony is that, apparently, the spyware scam unraveled because the code installed by the UAE telco just was poor — triggering crashes and dramatically reducing battery life.  Better written software just might have escaped notice.

Lesson learned: always check on authenticity and the raison d’etre before clicking “install” on smartphone OS updates.

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