The Hague (AFP) – Dutch police confirmed Wednesday they have found a way to hack into messages on Blackberry data-encrypted smartphones, which claim to be the world’s most secure communications devices.
The news first leaked in December on a Dutch blog Misdaadnieuws.com which revealed that the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) had broken into Blackberries equipped with the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption programme.
Even deleted emails could “largely” be recovered, although police could not hack into the phones from a distance, but had to have them in their hands, the website said, linking to a number of excerpts from what it said were NFI reports.
The institute, which helps police in retrieving forensic evidence in Dutch criminal cases, told AFP the reports were authentic.
“We can confirm that these reports were indeed from NFI,” the spokesman said.
It could prove a blow to Blackberry, which is beloved by many governments – including in the United States, where White House officials are routinely issued with the devices in a bid to keep email communications as secure as possible.
Reporters, businesspeople and criminals have also long been attached to the smartphone which in its heyday was dubbed the “Crackberry” – so addicted did users become.
Blackberry, a Canadian company, said in a statement: “We are confident that BlackBerry provides the world’s most secure communications platform to government, military and enterprise customers.”
It added however that it could not “comment on this claim as we don’t have any details on the specific device or the way that it was configured, managed or otherwise protected”.
The company also did not “have any details on the nature of the communications that are claimed to have been decrypted.”
Blackberry was a pioneer in the smartphone market, but has gradually lost out to stiff competition as consumers have shifted to devices running on Google Android and Apple’s IOS operating systems. It now holds less than a one percent share of the smartphone market.
According to one of the extracts published by the Dutch website dating from January 2015, the police had extracted some 325 encrypted emails from a Blackberry 9720 and managed to open 279 of them.
The method relies on a programme UFED4PC created by the Israeli company, Cellebrite, it said.