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Canadian Mounties ‘Can Decrypt’ BlackBerry Messages

Michael Moore joined TechWeek Europe in January 2014 as a trainee before graduating to Reporter later that year. He covers a wide range of topics, including but not limited to mobile devices, wearable tech, the Internet of Things, and financial technology.

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Royal Canadian Mounted Police were reportedly able to read messages sent between BlackBerrys for at least a two year period and might still be able to

Canadian police have been in possession of a master encryption key that has allowed them to read all messages sent on BlackBerry devices, according to reports.

An investigation by Vice found that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, also known as the Mounties, were able to decrypt messages sent between BlackBerry devices for at least two years.

Mounties allegedly had access between 2010 and 2012 and the Canadian government spent almost two years fighting to keep this information secret. It is unclear how the force was unable to acquire the key, and it is not known if Mounties can still read messages on a BlackBerry smarthpone.

BlackBerry has not yet replied to TechWeekEurope’s request for comment.

Uncovered

mountiesThe Mounties allegedly used the key in a two-year criminal investigation concerning the murder of a suspected Montreal gangster, intercepting over one million messages sent over the BBM service.

The force told local investigators that it was tracking four member of a local crime syndicate.

All of BlackBerry’s device use a single encryption key, meaning that in order to unscramble the messages, the Mounties would need to have possessed a tool to do just that, having set up a server in Ottawa that simulates a message’s intended recipients and then uses that global key to decrypt them.

The police stated that it had obtained “the key that would unlock the doors of all the houses of the people who use the provider’s services, and that, without their knowledge.”

BlackBerry had been thought to be boosting its own security protections in recent months, as it acquired British firm Encription to power is new ‘Professional Cybersecurity Services practice’, back in February.

Back in January, the company also had to reassure users about the security of their devices following allegations that Dutch police claimed to be able to decrypt messages on so-called BlackBerry PGP devices, which have been modified by third parties.

This follows the highly-publicised battle between Apple and the FBI, which has raised wide-ranging questions about the privacy and security of mobile devices.

After months of trying to pressure Apple into unlocking the device of San Bernardino terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone, the agency revealed it enlisted the help of an unknown third party to crack the phone.

BlackBerry CEO John Chen recently slammed other technology firms, specifically Apple, for refusing to work with governments on “lawful access requests”.

Chen also said that the right to privacy should not be extended to criminals, as the debate between pro-privacy advocates and governments had become “acrimonious and polarising” in recent times, especially following reports terrorists are using messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram to carry out their activities.

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