Big Challenges Ahead for RIM

Carl Weinschenk

This eWeek story describes a blog item by Symantec researcher John O'Connor that claims Research in Motion's BlackBerry device is highly vulnerable.


A $100 piece of software, the blog says, allows hackers to steal data. Among other problems, backdoors can be installed, the device can be used to launch proxy attacks, and owners can easily be maneuvered into sending expensive short messaging service (SMS) messages.


The paper itself was taken off the Symantec blog, perhaps because the security firm wants to create some buzz at a conference. The writer quite naturally wonders if "external pressure" may have played a role in the quick deletion.


Research in Motion may have quite a problem on its hands, assuming even a portion of what the researcher says is correct. The story, which isn't the first recent news about BlackBerry security, couldn't come at a worse time. It's clear that mobile e-mail is an increasingly hot sector. To date, the biggest users have been upper-level executives and field workers, such as sales staff, that spend an inordinate amount of time on the road. The players in the push e-mail space are pushing to expand toward consumers and to middle-level corporate workers. These are huge markets.


RIM, of course, is the big kahuna in the mobile e-mail sector. If the claims in the removed paper are true, the world of push e-mail will get a lot more interesting. If the other companies in the sector, which include Microsoft and, now, Motorola, have a better security story to tell, they need to be very vocal about it. They could, after all, make up a lot of ground on the market leader. Moreover, if they don't tell their stories, they could be tarred with the same brush. It's not black and white, however; Microsoft also is dealing with claims that its mobile e-mail system is insecure.


The bottom line is that the paper (and, to a lesser extent, the reasons for its removal) enter a wild card into the world of push e-mail. It will be interesting to see how RIM responds. It's been a while since the company faced down its last great challenge, the patent litigation by NTP Group. The early bet is that this could be as great -- or even greater -- a challenge.

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