Take the RIM Shutdown Threats Seriously

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

Smartphone Security Gaps

Employees are at risk for viruses and other security breaches, so IT staff need to be just as vigilant with company-issued phones accessing the network as they are with computers.

The implications of the possible ban of all or some BlackBerry services in two Middle Eastern nations are serious. Whether the countries' concerns are legitimate or not, the idea of governments shutting down a platform on which so much corporate communications relies is unsettling.


The Christian Science Monitor reports that Saudi Arabia is on the verge of shutting down BlackBerry's IM service, though a Reuters report today says that a compromise between the government and Research in Motion appears to be near. Switched reports that in October the United Arab Emirates says it will shut down BlackBerry e-mail, messaging and Web browsing. The story suggests that India, a massive market for RIM, may be in play as well.


The issues relate to technology, security and, not insignificantly, national sovereignty. The countries say the transmission of encrypted messages to servers outside the respective countries makes it difficult or impossible to monitor user activities.


A solution enabling governments to realize their legitimate security concerns while not compromising the privacy of subscribers would be a welcome step, of course. But it is a matter of time before shutdowns occur. This is not a problem that is going away.


BlackBerries and other devices are used by law abiding people and companies -- and also by terrorists and garden variety criminals. They are used by activists, the military and other controversial folks. Countries want to keep their eyes on all of these folks, rightly or wrongly, and will not be happy if RIM, Apple or any other outsider makes it more difficult for them to do so. It also is inevitable that the nations that play faster and looser will use the threat of a shutdown to bully vendors and their carriers and service providers in one way or another.


The complexity of these issues is discussed, in a somewhat different context, by Sue Marquette Poremba over at Network Security Edge. The bottom line is that there is a tremendous amount of data online and traveling through wireless networks. There are many agendas, and shutdowns will occur. Smart companies must have alternative plans in place for the inevitable political power plays.

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