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Tue 21 Jul 2009 04:57 PM

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Etisalat accused in surveillance patch fiasco

RIM distances itself from Etisalat amid allegations of role in BlackBerry spyware.

Etisalat accused in surveillance patch fiasco
SPYWARE PATCH: RIM releases statement confirming Etisalats role in BlackBerry spyware. (Getty Images)

Etisalat is facing new controversy after handset partner and BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion (RIM) on Tuesday distanced itself from the operator amid allegations the UAE firm deliberately infected its customers’ handsets with spyware.

In a damning blow for Etisalat, RIM has released a strongly-worded statement that claims it was “not involved in any way in the testing, promotion or distribution of this software application”, which Etisalat originally described as a “performance enhancement patch”.

RIM’s assertion that it is “not aware of any technical network concerns with the performance of BlackBerry smartphones on Etisalat ’s network in the UAE” directly contradicts Etisalat’s claim that the Java-based software it offered to its BlackBerry users was designed to aid 2G to 3G handovers.

Etisalat has so far refused to address the conclusions of software and telecom security experts, who say the software is a surveillance patch that enables the operator to see emails sent from the devices, a theory that was endorsed by RIM on its website.

RIM stated: “Independent sources have concluded that the Etisalat update is not designed to improve performance of your BlackBerry, but rather to send received messages back to a central server.”

RIM has now developed its own software to enable BlackBerry users to remove the Etisalat update.Etisalat will be further embarrassed by RIM’s advice to BlackBerry users to not download applications from “unknown or untrusted sources”, and its warning that “another attempt to push the surveillance software on to consumers may be made”.

The lengthy statement and advice on how to remove the software is a clear attempt by the Canada-based manufacturer to distance itself from Etisalat. Until now, RIM had refused to respond to questions about the software and this latest move signals a souring in the relations between UAE incumbent Etisalat and handset maker RIM, who joined forces to launch the first BlackBerry smartphones in the UAE in 2006.

Etisalat stopped issuing the patch after it was found to greatly reduce the battery life of devices, which experts say was caused by too many devices trying to register the software at once.

The operator claimed the software was meant to fix “a conflict in the settings in some BlackBerry devices” that Etisalat said had led to “a slight technical fault while upgrading the software of these devices”. Etisalat also claimed the BlackBerry devices were experiencing problems moving from 2G to 3G cell sites.

But experts poured scorn on Etisalat’s reasons for issuing the software, claiming that handover problems could not be addressed with a Java-based upgrade.Etisalat did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the software released by BlackBerry.

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Patrick 11 years ago

What if an ETISALAT employee go ahead and steel valuable data on my Blackberry?? I have pricing informations, mark ups and other extremely valuable financial information that is circulating on my Blackberry and other colleagues Blackberry device, the reason why I have a Blackberry is because it is a secure form of communications. Thank You Etisalat for breaking this secure communication and making business in the UAE much harder than what it is already!!!!!!!

Barney Stinson 11 years ago

“Independent sources have concluded that the Etisalat update is not designed to improve performance of your BlackBerry, but rather to send received messages back to a central server.” Does this central server exist and are they monitoring our texts? This is a huge story that needs proper investigating. Come on AB, don't let this one go.

Raj 11 years ago

Shame on Etisalat.

Rashid 11 years ago

Etisalat is the best service provider in the world. I am sure it is not interested in your msg and this is all part of the global Initiative.

Wayne 11 years ago

Or is silence an admission of guilt ?

Jebel Ali Baba 11 years ago

I would highly recommend to cancel every Blackberry subscription with Etisalat and switch to Du. The safest way of course is to avoid storing or sending valuable data on portable network devices or central servers.

Berry Black 11 years ago

another reason not to live in dubai, every day city of dubai gives more reasons not to live here, is there any UAE law that would allow us to sue Etisalat,

Tehsin Asghar 11 years ago

RIM has posted on its website a utility to remove this spyware. Here is the link http://na.blackberry.com/eng/ataglance/security/regappremover.jsp?CPID=OTC-REGAPPREMOVER Shame on Etisalat, I am never going to believe and trust Etisalat anymore. Probably I am changing my services to Du from now on, who see to be more responsible operator, so far.

Andy 11 years ago

This comes of no surprise to me. Here is the article from engadget on this http://www.engadget.com/2009/07/21/etisalat-blackberry-update-was-indeed-spyware-rim-provides-a-so/

Punky Brewster 11 years ago

I consider myself LUCKY to NOT having a BB device, even though I was CLOSE to getting one 2 weeks back. Maybe the silver lining here is the snooping by Etisalat, but it definitely saved me the hassle of buying spare phone/battery. Is Etisalat going to REFUND the costumers who purchased newer phones/batteries for this glitch? i doubt it. I think Etisalat should be abandoned, and people should move to 'du', unless du has it's OWN sneaking software. Etisalat should be ashamed for a BAD PR fiasco following the patch incidence, yet, BIG corporates the world over lose out in the long run. With the monopoly almost out, Etisalat can start licking the wounds, considering many customers probably would be switching over to du.