BlackBerry, A Line of Code, and the Great Decryption Debate

  • April 14 2016, 10:57 am

  • by Wes Sovis

  • General

Decryption as a Service?

You may have heard some relatively stunning news surrounding revelations of Blackberry's possession of a decryption method in blogs and across social media. It was revealed during the the fallout of a murder trial that began in 2011 in Montreal. Trial documents show that Royal Canadian Mounted Police used a decryption code, specific to Blackberry devices, throughout the gang related murder investigation. The code allowed police to access one million Blackberry messages sent and received by devices associated with the investigation. 

The fact that such a powerful and invasive code exists should be concerning to the general public. But the important questions on this issue remain unanswered. Who made this decryption code; Blackberry or perhaps a Canadian government entity? Is the encryption key still valid and functioning, and if so, where is it being stored? 

Court documents show that existence of this decryption key has been known since 2010 - how long, and to what degree has Blackberry played a role in assisting government agencies with decrypting phones since that time? 

A Single Line of Code

The decryption key itself is a single line of code that can access any consumer-owner Blackberry device. This global key is not expected to be able to decrypt devices using Blackberry Enterprise Server clients, which remains Blackberry's core user group. A consumer level phone's messages can be accessed on the consumer server with by simply using the global decryption key. While the Canadian government and Blackberry refuse to say where the code originated, Blackberry has shown little hesitation in aiding police with requests for user information. The company has gone so far as to suggest they'd be willing to sign an agreement with law enforcement agencies to aid in reasonable requests for information access. 

More Code Decryption Debates to Come

It's likely that decryption debates will rage in courtrooms around the world with greater frequency going forward. Blackberry is just the latest technology company to be questioned on this issue, as Apple faced calls from the FBI to grant access to the US government during a terrorism investigation. Google, Twitter and other companies face similar requests from governments around the world under the premise of anti-terrorism efforts. To what length these companies have been willing to go to help governments with these requests is relatively unknown. 

For an in-depth look into the breaking news surrounding the Blackberry debate, be sure to read this excellent piece from Justin Ling and Jordan Pearson over at Vice News.

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