India Rejects RIM’s Security Plan: Blackberry Maker Goes Back to the Drawing Board

by Matt Klassen on October 4, 2010

One step forward, two steps back. At least that’s how things seem to be going for Canadian company Research in Motion (RIM) these days. On the heels of international Blackberry security issues and a disappointing release of its latest smartphone, the Blackberry Torch, things were looking pretty down for RIM. But then came resolutions with overzealous security-paranoid nations and the unveiling of RIM’s tablet, the Playbook, and suddenly things were looking up. But I just knew it couldn’t last.

Despite reaching an interim agreement with the Indian government that would allow government officials access to encrypted Blackberry emails, the government is still not happy. This past weekend security officials in India’s telecom department rejected RIM’s proposed security solution, stating that they were still unable to intercept or monitor Blackberry communications.

The issue, it seems, is that everything security officials intercept is unreadable; they still need the key to crack the encryption. The only problem, RIM doesn’t have the keys, which is what the Blackberry maker has been saying all along.

What really bothers me about this situation is not so much that the Indian government is trying to squeeze blood from stone by demanding encryption keys that RIM doesn’t have, its that RIM has told Indian officials this fact the entire time—with the Indian government even going so far as to say that it was satisfied with RIM’s intercept solution.

Further, RIM has proposed a solution to the Indian government that would allow it to monitor and decrypt all Blackberry transmissions, it just requires Indian security officials to do the legwork, which in my mind seems to be the crux of the issue. “We have manual access to the messenger service,” Indians home secretary G.K. Pillai explains, “We want automated access and we are hopeful of getting it from January 1.”

But perhaps the media has been misrepresenting the ongoing security talks between RIM and the Indian government, meaning that perhaps Indian officials never liked what RIM was giving them in the first place. In a statement released by RIM it reads:

“There unfortunately continues to be a lot of contradictory, misleading and inaccurate information circulating on the topic of lawful access matters in India….Although the details of any regulatory discussions between RIM and the government of India are confidential, RIM can confirm that discussions continue to be constructive and RIM remains optimistic that a positive outcome can be achieved. RIM also confirms that it continues to approach lawful access requirements in India within the framework of the core principles that were publicly communicated by RIM on Aug. 12.”

Translation: RIM is still trying to convince the Indian government that it can’t give the government access to Blackberry emails because RIM doesn’t even have that access. What it can do is hopefully find a workable solution that will allow Indian officials to gain encryption keys from Indian users themselves.

The bottom line, however, is that both sides want, in fact need, a workable solution. For RIM the stakes are unquestionably high, as India is one of the world’s fastest growing mobile markets. But for India this ongoing RIM drama has given the country some bad rep, as companies are increasingly becoming leery of the countries draconian security standards, meaning, simply enough, that India could suffer financially as this saga wears on.

Needless to say though, I would bet on India surviving this drawn out standoff far longer than RIM.

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