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RIM Scrubs Spyware From UAE BlackBerrys

Users complained a firmware update -- unauthorized by RIM -- had led to decreased battery life and system crashes.

Research In Motion has issued a fix for a firmware update by a United Arab Emirates carrier that potentially enabled the cellular service provider to spy on its BlackBerry users.

The carrier Etisalat has over 145,000 BlackBerry users on its network, and it offered these customers an over-the-air software update a few weeks ago that was aimed at improving performance. Users complained the update had negative impacts on the handset, and it led to decreased battery life, as well as system crashes.

The update was identified as a mobile application developed by SS8, which specializes in electronic surveillance and law enforcement products. RIM said this app is a telecommunication surveillance program that could potentially allow unauthorized access to data on the handset, including e-mails, and personal information.

"The Etisalat update is not a RIM-authorized update and was not developed by RIM," the BlackBerry-maker said in a note to customers. "Independent sources have concluded that the Etisalat update is not designed to improve performance of your BlackBerry handheld, but rather to send messages back to a central server."

In a statement last week, Etisalat said the issues with handsets were minor technical issues, and that the "upgrades were required for service enhancements." The mobile operator also said the update was needed to help ease the transition from 2G to 3G networks. BlackBerry users on rival Du's network have not faced the same issues.

BlackBerry users on Etisalat's network can go to RIM's Web site to download software that will remove the surveillance application.


Most companies are just starting the hard work of mobilizing workforces by bringing the software they use to smartphones. InformationWeek analyzed this issue in an independent report, and it can be downloaded here (registration required).

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