rediff.com

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  

Rediff News  All News 
Rediff.com  » Business » Why is India wasting its time chasing BlackBerry?

Why is India wasting its time chasing BlackBerry?

Last updated on: August 9, 2010 18:59 IST

Why is India wasting its time chasing BlackBerry?

     Next

Next
Prasanto K Roy


You're a Delhi-based wannabe terrorist needing to communicate with your handlers. What do you do?

Invisible-ink notes are passe, as are carrier pigeons. You will, of course, use electronic options.

Like email. Walk into a cybercafe, log into a Gmail or Yahoo account. Don't use an account in your own name. And don't send email.

Simply read instructions left for you in an unsent mail, saved as a draft in your account. And then, to reply, just edit the unsent email, and save it back as a draft. If email isn't traveling, it can't be intercepted.

Or, like SMS. Get a prepaid SIM card with fake ID, use it for a month, then dump it. Or make good old phone calls using the SIM card, and dump it.

There are other options. And they have a common thread: anonymity. You do not use your own identity, and you use a mode that is virtually untraceable.

And that is why a terrorist would choose not to use a BlackBerry that can be linked to his identity. Nor is a postpaid BlackBerry connection as disposable as a prepaid SIM card. Sure, you can get postpaid mobile connections too on fake IDs, but because there is billing involved, valid addresses are required.

Click NEXT to read on . . .


Prasanto K Roy, chief editor of CyberMedia's ICT publications group.


     Next

Why is India wasting its time chasing BlackBerry?

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

That's not the only reason the terrorist would be wary of using a BlackBerry. First, he's not really sure how secure the mail is, once an agency is onto him. The mail is routed through servers in North America, and the US NationalSecurity Agency reportedly has the technology to crack encrypted mail in a few hours -- with or without help from RIM.

Even more worrying for the terrorist: not all of the mail is encrypted. The headers, including the 'to'and 'from' email addresses, are plain text. Else the Internet would not be able to accept the email for delivery.

And finally, the mail does not stay encrypted all the way. When it gets delivered to an external email system such as Gmail or corporate mail, it gets decrypted -- else the recipient wouldn't be able to read it.

The exception is when you're not using a Gmail or a company mail ID, but are sending pure BlackBerry mail. That's not merely one sent between two RIM devices, but where both 'from' and 'to' are BlackBerry IDs. That's rare, but here's how it works.

Your RIM device would usually be associated with your official address, say ram.rao@maruti.com. But you'd also have a BlackBerry email address, like ramrao@airtel.blackberry.com, which you'd use to originate a BlackBerry-only mail. Even then, RIM would record who the mail was sent by, who was it sent to, and when.

Click NEXT to read on . . .



Prev     Next

Why is India wasting its time chasing BlackBerry?

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

So there are records with BlackBerry email, and they're like mobile-phone call records (which store who called whom, when, and for how long, for billing). RIM records who sent mail, when, and to whom. The content, however, is strongly encrypted.

But our terrorist isn't using a BlackBerry. He's using Gmail, and he's not even sending the mail: he's just using draft mode to read and reply. So our surveillance agencies don't stand a chance of 'intercepting' that mail.

Even if they're on to him, they don't know what ID he's using. And then they don't have the Gmail login ID. If they get that, then getting Google or Yahoo to give them access will take months, with all the protocol, Interpol, and the rest. . . by which time that account would have been closed, and the deed done.

And that is why India is wasting its time chasing BlackBerry.

It should first figure out what to do with the mail systems terrorists use, with foreign mail servers. Should it demand that all such servers be based in India? Google and Yahoo won't agree. So that would cut us off from the best of Internet mail systems.

Click NEXT to read on . . .



Prev     Next

Why is India wasting its time chasing BlackBerry?

Prev     More
Prev

More

In fact, why not go further down that path, like China . . . and cut off the Internet? Route everything through a tightly-controlled gateway and firewall, and ensure that all servers are within China. And jail or shoot all dissidents, for a good measure.

There are bigger dangers down the road that Saudi Arabia and India are treading. One, government officials are major users of BlackBerry mail. Do they really want to push RIM into a corner where it starts offering decryption to any government which asks?

What then stops it from offering to decrypt Indian emails for China or Pakistan, if enough pressure is brought to bear on it?

To no one's surprise, countries most proficient at cracking down on dissents and censoring local media have been the most active in squeezing RIM. Like China, Saudi Arabia polices the Internet, blocking access to sites with political and adult content.

India, unfortunately, seems to be trying to join this not-so-elite club.

Prasanto K Roy, chief editor of CyberMedia's ICT publications group.



Prev     More