[ISN] Canadian lawsuit raises messaging privacy issue

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Tue Jan 18 06:37:43 EST 2005


By Jaikumar Vijayan
JANUARY 14, 2005 

Private messages exchanged using corporate BlackBerry wireless devices
may not be quite so private after all.

In a lawsuit filed in Toronto this week, the Canadian Imperial Bank of
Commerce (CIBC) submitted scores of BlackBerry e-mails and messages as
evidence that several former executives took confidential information
from the company and tried to recruit others while they were still
employees at the bank.

The lawsuit was filed against Genuity Capital Markets, a Toronto-based
investment management firm started by six former employees of CIBC.

The messages submitted as evidence include so-called PIN messages sent
between users with the BlackBerry's personal identification numbers
instead of e-mail addresses.

This form of BlackBerry communication is generally considered more
private than using e-mail addresses because PIN messages are sent
directly from one BlackBerry device to another. Standard BlackBerry
e-mails, on the other hand, are routed via a BlackBerry Enterprise
Server and can be logged and archived like any other e-mail messages.

BlackBerry devices are manufactured by Waterloo, Ontario-based
Research In Motion Ltd., which claims more than 2 million subscribers
at thousands of companies worldwide.

"PIN messaging is common in financial circles and workgroups," said an
executive at a Toronto-based technology vendor who asked not to be
identified. "It's kind of like an SMS or instant message" that can't
be monitored or logged by the Blackberry Enterprise Server itself, the
executive said. As a result, many use the feature to exchange private
and sensitive information with one another.

The fact that CIBC logged such messages is bound to come as a surprise
to many users, said Thomas Smith, a director of the International
BlackBerry User Group in Mountain View, Calif.

"I wasn't aware that PIN messages could be logged, but I'm not
completely shocked either," said Smith, who administers more than 500
BlackBerry devices at the Houston-based company he works for. He asked
that the company not be named.

Users of such devices "without question" believe that PIN messages
can't be logged, Smith said.

That's a mistake, said Rob Moffat, president of Wallace Wireless, a
vendor of software for BlackBerry devices in Amherst, N.Y. "There is
some misunderstanding about the ability to archive such messages," he
said. "The perception is that people can send PIN messages and there's
no traceability."

The reality is that such messages can indeed be logged, said Moffat,
whose company sells software that, among other things, allows
companies to log BlackBerry PIN communications. The function has been
available as a rarely used part of a broader business continuity
software suite for some time now. But it's increasingly being used by
financial services companies and government organizations to log
BlackBerry communications, he said.

"There's specific Nasdaq, NASD and Sarbanes-Oxley stuff that these
companies need to comply with," Moffat said.

The news should come as no surprise to security professionals, said
Pete Lindstrom, an analyst at Malvern, Pa.-based Spire Security LLC.  
"Most people think of peer-to-peer communications as being a
person-to-person thing. But somewhere in between there's almost always
a server intercepting this stuff and logging it."

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