The NSA has killed the best argument for still using a BlackBerry

September 9, 2013

(Mark Blinch/Reuters)

BlackBerry may be on the rocks financially, but it had at least one thing going for it: Its commercial e-mail service was considered one of the most secure on the market. Foreign governments have on occasion threatened to ban BlackBerry services within their borders over the company's heavily encrypted messaging functions, claiming that national security demanded the messages be made legible to law enforcement. The words "BlackBerry" and "uncrackable" often appear together.

Now, via Der Spiegel, we've learned that that security may have been compromised by the NSA. The agency can tap into the data on iPhones, Android devices and, yes, BlackBerrys, according to the German newsweekly. What surveillance has taken place on mobile phones has been mostly limited, targeting individual users. But the vulnerable information is wide-ranging and reportedly includes the content of text-messages, contact lists and location data.

From the Der Spiegel report, it sounds as though, at least in some cases, the NSA has managed to access the private data of BlackBerry users without the manufacturer's knowledge.

A BlackBerry spokesperson declined to comment, but insisted that "there is no 'back door' pipeline to our platform."

BlackBerry's marketshare worldwide has sunk to 2.7 percent; chances are those holdouts aren't there simply for the physical keyboards. If the supposedly super-strong encryption on BlackBerry devices has been broken against the company's will, that could further undermine confidence in the system's remaining loyalists.

Correction: The original version of this article reported that BlackBerry had given the Saudi and Indian governments access to messaging data. In fact, a BlackBerry spokesperson said the company did not hand over the encryption keys because the keys belonged to the clients, not the company.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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September 9, 2013

(Mark Blinch/Reuters)

BlackBerry may be on the rocks financially, but it had at least one thing going for it: Its commercial e-mail service was considered one of the most secure on the market. Foreign governments have on occasion threatened to ban BlackBerry services within their borders over the company's heavily encrypted messaging functions, claiming that national security demanded the messages be made legible to law enforcement. The words "BlackBerry" and "uncrackable" often appear together.

Now, via Der Spiegel, we've learned that that security may have been compromised by the NSA. The agency can tap into the data on iPhones, Android devices and, yes, BlackBerrys, according to the German newsweekly. What surveillance has taken place on mobile phones has been mostly limited, targeting individual users. But the vulnerable information is wide-ranging and reportedly includes the content of text-messages, contact lists and location data.

From the Der Spiegel report, it sounds as though, at least in some cases, the NSA has managed to access the private data of BlackBerry users without the manufacturer's knowledge.

A BlackBerry spokesperson declined to comment, but insisted that "there is no 'back door' pipeline to our platform."

BlackBerry's marketshare worldwide has sunk to 2.7 percent; chances are those holdouts aren't there simply for the physical keyboards. If the supposedly super-strong encryption on BlackBerry devices has been broken against the company's will, that could further undermine confidence in the system's remaining loyalists.

Correction: The original version of this article reported that BlackBerry had given the Saudi and Indian governments access to messaging data. In fact, a BlackBerry spokesperson said the company did not hand over the encryption keys because the keys belonged to the clients, not the company.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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Andrea Peterson | September 9, 2013