RIM says UAE carrier’s Blackberry update is spyware

A Blackberry firmware update pushed out to subscribers of United Arab Emirates carrier Etisalat contained spyware, Research in Motion confirmed Tuesday.

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About a week ago, Blackberry users in the UAE began complaining that an update pushed out to Etisalat subscribers was killing battery life on their phones. The update was supposed to improve Blackberry performance, but after some investigation, technical users reported that it actually contained software that could spy on users activities.

On Tuesday, Blackberry’s manufacturer, Research in Motion, confirmed that diagnosis and offered a new firmware update, designed to remove the spyware.

“Independent sources have concluded that the Etisalat update is not designed to improve performance of your BlackBerry Handheld, but rather to send received messages back to a central server,” RIM said in a note on its Web site. The update was not written by RIM, the company noted.

In a July 17 note to customers, posted Tuesday to the Dutch Web site Automation Guide, RIM explained things in more detail, saying that, “Etisalat appears to have distributed a telecommunications surveillance application that was designed and developed by SS8.”

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SS8 is a Milpitas, California, company that develops communications surveillance products for law enforcement. The company did not respond to a telephone call seeking comment.

Etisalat has described the problem as a “slight technical fault,” and said that the company’s 145,000 subscribers can uninstall the update by pressing 101 on their phones.

The company, which is based in Abu Dhabi, could not be reached immediately for comment.