Etisalat’s Blackberry – Suddenly it’s a privacy issue!

by Shijaz Abdulla on 15.07.2009 at 21:17

Day before yesterday, I wrote about the Blackberry update that caused device batteries to drain out on a UAE telco’s Blackberry subscriber network.

A later report in the Gulf News has revealed that the fateful patch, distributed by Etisalat, contained what is called an ‘interceptor’. An interceptor is basically a program that can potentially send a copy of each message on the device back to the service provider – which I would call – a serious privacy issue.

Quote from the Gulf News:

After a confirmation is successfully sent by the BlackBerry device to
etisalat, the device waits for a message from etisalat to activate the
interceptor software.
…if and when the command is received, the software sends every subsequent
opened message to etisalat.

…the software was also designed to protect itself from removal. It tracks changes to the system configuration and if it detects any, it uninstalls then reinstalls itself.

Apparently the battery drain was caused due the device waiting on an open data connection to send confirmation to Etisalat for the interceptor.

Unlike Blackberry devices, Windows Mobile devices are not managed by the service provider or telco. They are managed by the organization that owns/administers the devices, and hence there is a more complete degree of control on what software gets installed on these devices. All communication between the Windows Mobile device and the Exchange servers (email servers hosted within the organization’s premises), happens through a secure, encrypted SSL tunnel between the device and the server over the 3G/GPRS network. The operator only provides simple internet connectivity for the device, and can’t do much to intercept or tamper with email data getting sync’d with the device.

However, some organizations refrain from going the Windows Mobile way, the common reason being the ability to have consistent monthly data charges with the Blackberry. However, based on a recent survey with Windows Mobile users, we found very compelling results:

Windows Mobile 6.1, coupled with Exchange Server 2007 provided a major improvement in bandwidth utilization. For a heavily active user profile, Windows Mobile 6.1 used only 388 KB per day to synchronize with Exchange Server!

What’s more?

  • A single Exchange 2007 Client Access Server can handle more concurrent connections on similar hardware when compared to Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES).
  • Windows Mobile is of lower cost and complexity
  • Windows Mobile is more secure and is highly manageable through System Center
  • You get a wider choice of applications and devices.
  • Familar and open development environment fosters development of exciting tools/add-ons
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2 Responses to Etisalat’s Blackberry – Suddenly it’s a privacy issue!

  1. Talha says:

    doesn't bandwidth cost depend on the amount of data being between exchange and the windows mobile device? so if i am a heavy user my bandwidth would be high and id pay more but if i used less id pay less. with blackberry its fixed. so thats y its convinient for companies to go the blackberry route!

  2. Shijaz says:

    That's the whole point — With Windows Mobile it's more flexible – you pay for what you need. Based on the survey above, a heavy user on Windows Mobile uses only 388KB of bandwidth per day, thanks to the enhancements in Windows Mobile 6.1 and Exchange Server 2007.

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