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August 11, 2010

Saudi BlackBerry gateway ‘unworkable’: telecoms security expert

Expert says you can't put genie back in the bottle

By Jason Stamper

The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia would be wasting their time trying to use a gateway to scan BlackBerry messenger traffic, telecoms security expert Dr. Jacques Bensimon of Logtel Computer Communications told CBR.

Authorities in the UAE and Saudi Arabia along with India and Indonesia have expressed serious concerns about Research In Motion (RIM’s) BlackBerry smart phones, arguing that the way data is encrypted and stored by the Canadian firm could pose a security threat in their countries.

Saudi Arabia has said it will allow BlackBerry messaging services to continue in the country while asking RIM to put in place a system that will let the kingdom monitor user data. The decision gives Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM and the kingdom’s three wireless companies more time to implement a technical fix that will let the service meet local laws.

But in an interview with CBR, Dr Bensimon – who has worked in datacomms since 1973, being one of the early developers of the X.25 and OSI standards – said that while he could understand authorities’ concerns over the fact that BlackBerry messages are encrypted and so could be used by a criminal minority, filtering messages at some sort of national gateway simply won’t work.

"If I am a criminal and I know that my BlackBerry messages are being monitored then I will simply use other channels of communication," Dr Bensimon said. "People would simply start using encryption on other networks – how are you going to deal with that? It’s a lost cause trying to put the genie back in the bottle, you have to find a smarter way."

Dr Jacques Bensimon

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"Saudi wants to put in some sort of gateway but RIM has something like 46 million users today. The earth is flat, you can’t stop it. A gateway would introduce a critical delay. Latency would be a big problem – the gateway would act as one big bottleneck," Dr Bensimon argued. "We did filtering of this sort on one operator’s network in Holland as a trial and the delay was unacceptable, it just doesn’t scale on those sorts of levels."

Bensimon argued that a filter of some sort adopted by UAE could also set a worrying precedent for other authorities: "If they do it in one country then India will do it, the Gulf countries will do it, why not some countries in Europe?" Dr Bensimon asked. "Each country will want its own filtering and as well as the issue of latency you have to wonder what it means in terms of privacy. And if they start monitoring BlackBerry traffic, why not routinely monitor all message traffic on all networks?"



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