Etisalat's Blackberry patch claim 'rubbish'

    Experts claim UAE telco's software 'upgrade' intercepts emails, texts.
    Experts claim Etisalat's Blackberry patch is designed to intercept users' emails and texts.
    Experts claim Etisalat's Blackberry patch is designed to intercept users' emails and texts.


    A telecom network expert and software programmer have dismissed Etisalat’s claim that the Java-based software it released to its BlackBerry users was designed to aid 2G to 3G handovers as “rubbish” and “completely bogus”.

    The UAE telecom operator said on Wednesday that the software upgrade “aims to enhance the performance of devices and facilitate handover from 3G to 2G networks”. The statement failed to address claims by software experts that the patch was designed to intercept emails and text messages.

    Rudolf Van Der Berg, a telecoms expert based in Holland with experience of implementing telecoms interception and surveillance systems said the statement from Etisalat was “completely bogus”.

    Qatar-based Java programmer Nigel Gourlay, who first told CommsMEA that the code gives Etisalat the capability to read emails and text messages sent from BlackBerry devices, described the operator’s claim as “rubbish”.

    “You wouldn’t solve handover problems in Java,” Van Der Berg said. “Handover is done by the device, not by some code that is implemented using Java. Java is for applications.

    “If you want to solve a problem like the one they are referring to - 2G to 3G handover - then you would address that in the firmware and it would be something that BlackBerry would need to do and not something that Etisalat would have any knowledge of doing.”

    Van Der Berg added that if the problem was related to a handset it would be specific to a particular model, and not all devices produced by a manufacturer.

    Last year, UK network Orange briefly stopped selling RIM's BlackBerry Bold device after problems relating to its 3G performance. At the time UK operator told the media: "Orange UK and RIM both take customer concerns very seriously and felt it was prudent to introduce a maintenance release of software”.

    RIM was not mentioned in Etisalat’s statement, and so far the BlackBerry manufacturer has remained silent, refusing to respond to all questions regarding the patch.

    In the statement Etisalat said: “A conflict in the settings in some BlackBerry devices has led to a slight technical fault while upgrading the software of these devices. This has resulted in reduced battery life in a very limited number of devices.”

    Etisalat claims that it has received about 300 complaints from a customer base of 145,000 BlackBerry users, and it advises customers who have been affected to call its customer service department “where they will be given instructions on how to restore their handset to its original state”.

    The operator says that this will “resolve the issue completely”. At the time of writing, Etisalat had not responded to a request for further information about when or how the apparent 2G to 3G handover problem would be resolved.

    - George Bevir

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