GCN Tech Blog

By GCN Staff

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Can you count on your BlackBerry?

However brief it may have been, the Blackberry outage that affected millions last Tuesday raised a serious question-Can you trust your BlackBerry for mission critical work?

Government workers love their B'Berries, and as they grow more dependent on the thumb devices, they grow from being a convenience to being essential. And as that reliance increases so does the need for increased scrutiny of the service.

At first RIM offered few details of why the service was down. Only two days later did the company explain the outage, chalking it up to insufficient testing of new software.

And if some BlackBerry users have not been fully reassured by the company's explanation, some may also find it disconcerting to learn that no mention of the outage or its cause has yet been posted to Web site.

While reporting out the story,we came across a report from Gartner last summer that pointed out RIM has only one Network Operation Center, or NOC, for all of North America, located in Canada. This means all the e-mail flowing between Blackberry devices and their e-mail servers must pass through one location in Canada.

We noted that having only one NOC indicated a pretty great potential for system-wide failure. Should that one NOC go down, the whole service would go Kaput.

The Gartner researchers addressed another issue with this setup though-namely the security implications of having the NOC outside the country, where official government e-mail will sometime reside.

If a user's device in not in range of communication, they noted, the mail is temporarily held at the NOC. The security and compliance implications of storing e-mail outside the country could be problematic. Of course, RIM supports encryption of e-mail. But, as the researchers point out, this protection is far from fool-proof:

"If the software vendor can be forced to cooperate with government agencies, the possibility exists that the wireless e-mail software could include hidden eavesdropping capabilities in accordance with governments or intelligence agencies for various purposes," they write.

Could something like this actually happen? It is enough of a threat for other countries to think about the problem.

"Some government organizations in France, Germany, the U.K. and the Netherlands have chosen not to deploy NOC-based systems because their e-mail would be stored temporarily abroad and would, therefore, sometimes be beyond their control," the researchers write.

Posted by Patrick Marshall, Joab Jackson on Apr 25, 2007 at 9:39 AM


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