Criminals pick BlackBerries to avoid the police
It has become so popular among B.C. gang members that an internal RCMP “threat assessment” on organized crime produced this year devotes an entire section to the device.
“It’s something we’ve seen increasing over the last three to four years,” Staff Sgt. Bruce Imrie, head of the RCMP’s Vancouver Integrated Technological Crime Unit, said in an interview. And that poses a big challenge for law enforcement, because encryption and security features make the devices much harder to wiretap than land lines or cellphones.
“The BlackBerry (server) was created with corporate data security in mind,” states the RCMP report, obtained by The Vancouver Sun through the Access to Information Act. “Until recently, this system was only affordable by companies such as Telus, CIBC, and the like; they are now more affordable and it is easy for individuals to set-up a network.”
Imrie confirmed when police get a warrant for a criminal’s BlackBerry messages it can be difficult to intercept them.
“The use of BlackBerries may allow them to circumvent lawful access … (with) the encryption involved in the transmission,” said Imrie.
Even when police confiscate a criminal’s actual BlackBerry, he said, cracking its password to view the messages stored on it can be a challenge.
BlackBerries are most popular among a gang’s highest-ranking members, said Imrie.
“Your general street-level criminal doing organized shoplifting is not as likely to have a BlackBerry as your high-end drug trafficker,” he said. “(And) depending on the sophistication of the criminal organization, the use of the BlackBerry seems to increase.”
However, as BlackBerries become more affordable, that distinction is starting to blur, he said, with the devices becoming more prevalent among all types of criminals.
RCMP Insp. Gary Shinkaruk, head of biker gang investigations in B.C., said BlackBerries are “extremely common” among the criminals his unit investigates.
“For a lot of groups, it’s standard practice,” he said.
“Every message that is sent via a BlackBerry is broken up into 2Kb (kilobyte) packets of information, each of which is given a 256-bit key by the BlackBerry server,” said Totzke. “That means to release the contents of a 10Kb e-mail, a person would have to crack five separate keys, and each one would take about as long as it would for the sun to burn out – billion of years.”
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