Etisalat, the main mobile network in UAE has offered its BlackBerry clients for a free smartphone replacement last week. This is line with the government’s order to suspend BlackBerry data services. They were told by government regulators to suspend BlackBerry e-mail, Web browsing, instant messaging and social networking from Oct. 11 until the services meet the government’s regulations.
BlackBerry users has been warned by Security Researchers with this offer because they strongly believe that these new phones might be equipped with spyware already. So extra care should be done. According to Sheran Gunasekera, director of security at Hermis Consultancy in Jakarta, Indonesia: “Given the U.A.E.’s past actions, I would advise all recipients of the free phones to do a full wipe on them prior to using them”. He added that users should try out spyware detection and clearing software before using the device.
Similar scenario has happened last year when Etisalat has told its subscribers to download a software “upgrade” which later on turned out to be a spyware. Fortunately it was then discovered because the software drained BlackBerry batteries at an excessive rate, in as fast as 30 minutes after a full recharge. Once users downloaded the “upgrade,” it forwarded the phone’s emails to a central server. Etisalat however did not withdraw their stand that it was really an upgrade.
BlackBerry devices are secure gadgets but no matter how secure these devices are, users are still the main factor to maintain it. Spyware vendors often suggest loading their software on a smartphone and then giving it to the victim as a gift or better yet they would ask users to download a seemingly harmless piece of software that actually carries a spyware payload onboard.
It pays to be extra careful.