RIM and the Middle East - an analysis

By Yousif Abdullah on 22 Sep 2010 10:43 am EDT

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Under fire, one could say. A mixed relationship with the Middle East has put RIM in an unfortunate position plagued with security concerns. Still current, the topic draws much attention, but one question remains: what will the future hold for RIM? Take a look as I delved deeper into the subject.

History repeats itself

Location: India. Year: 2008. Pakistan-based militant organization Lashkar-e-Taiba carried out terror attacks in Mumbai leaving at least 173 people dead, hundreds wounded. Mobile phones, including BlackBerry smartphones, and other handheld gadgets, were used to coordinate the assault. Tensions between India and Pakistan continue to exist and reports of a BlackBerry ban arose, but the telecommunications secretary of the country said "there is no question of banning at this point".

Now, two years later, India is serious about a BlackBerry ban, but allowed RIM to first come into agreement with telecommunication officials prior to any action. Hoping for a resolution, the Indian government has been granted access to monitor BlackBerry Messenger activity, but is seeking access to monitor corporate e-mail as well. The outcome for this will surely be interesting, as RIM had earlier insisted it can not decode corporate e-mail.

Spyware, threats and hope

Location: United Arab Emirates. Year: 2009. Service provider Etisalat issued an update to its BlackBerry subscribers. Instead of improving performance, as suggested, the update was in fact spyware causing battery drain and malfunctioning. With the potential to access private data without the user's consent, it was a quick call for RIM to correct the problem and provide an update to remove said spyware from affected devices. Following this attempt, the UAE is now planning to suspend BlackBerry services from 11 October. The Emirates' telecommunications regulator said the lack of compliance with local laws raised "judicial, social and national security concerns".

UAE is certainly not alone voicing their concerns over security. Saudi-Arabia had threatened and actually suspended BlackBerry services last month, but eventually lifted the ban citing "positive developments". Whether RIM has granted Saudi-Arabia access to monitor BlackBerry Messenger traffic, as it did with India, remains unclear.

Insecurity of security?

RIM has earned a name in business as the true provider of secure, stable and real-time communication, and has been hard at work maintaining this status since 1996. Why is it then, that Middle Eastern governments are currently tarnishing this image of perfection? As the BlackBerry platform allows for highly encrypted communication, even intelligence agencies have difficulties intercepting data flowing through the BlackBerry network. Unfortunately, this also means that possible misuse of the platform can occur, such as aiding or engaging in acts of terrorism.

Fear of terrorism in many parts of the world is current and real, and the tragic 2008 Mumbai attacks demonstrate very well how technology can aid in terrorism. Taking advantage of encrypted communication, BlackBerry smartphones could, for example, be used for espionage and sharing of secret information with foes. Definitely, the security concerns of Middle Eastern governments are legitimate, as stated by U.S. officials.

Misuse of the BlackBerry platform is not limited to terrorism, though. For instance, the potential for child pornography to exist on the network is inevitable. As BlackBerry traffic is routed through the RIM network operations center (NOC), circumvention of possible Internet filters becomes viable.

RIM and the future

It is hard to tell what the future holds for RIM. Currently, RIM is in talks with the Middle East, but I am afraid RIM will face issues elsewhere. For example, the German government has forbidden federal employees to use BlackBerry smartphones, stating the BlackBerry platform is too vulnerable, suggesting the use of the Simko 2 product by T-Systems instead. In addition, the European Commission has rejected support for BlackBerry smartphones with similar concerns as Middle Eastern governments regarding control over the BlackBerry network.

Enterprises and emerging markets are both very important for RIM's future, every move counts. I see BlackBerry going nowhere in the near future, but RIM must be careful not to make mistakes. What do you think?

Reader comments

RIM and the Middle East - an analysis


"This is the Simko 2 product by T-Systems. This is a German product, yes, but it is primarily due to the fact that it is a safe product." Got this from the Simko 2 link above and it all makes sense now, they're pushing an EU product, end of story, nothing to do with blackberry's safety records.

Just did a quick search and it turns out the main reasons Germany is pushing Simko2 is the same as the middle east, concernes with data going trough Rim's UK or Canadian Servers. Can I just ad that Simko2 is not a device, it's a system working on HTC phones running Windows Mobile, nuff said.

Only pointed out that Simko 2 is a product by T-Systems. Does not necessarily mean it is a device, just like BlackBerry is a product in the sense that it is a commercial infrastructure - without meaning the device itself in particular.

Because if they don't, we're gonna be screwed if they end up going bankrupt. Think about it. I'll say, within 10 years, RIM will be dead, or, they're gonna retract out of those countries entirely to avoid everything going wrong for them.

In 10 years, to me, blackberry will be yet another mobile platform. Once the devs make a smartphone application for Ubuntu, you'll bet it'll be running on most devices that use a sim card for internet access, turning it into a phone with a headset and microphone.

That's my opinion. Hope rim makes good decisions.

Privacy is not a right anymore..

All governments that have ever attempted to involve themselves with every person on personal levels always ended bad.

How about instead of trying to be up in everyones business in order to catch terrorists one by one, these governments instead stop and think for a second, what's compeling people to resort to such horrible acts? Oh wait, they probably already know, but wouldn't ever publicly comply with such demands, and thus try to go about it by trying to sniff them out 1 by 1.

What a joke..