A judge has lifted a press embargo has on court records that tell how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police cracked into encrypted BlackBerry communications. The methods were used in the investigation of a member of a New York mafia who was fatally shot in the outskirts of Montreal in 2011.
The RCMP used “stingrays” — fake cell towers — to pick up on IMSI numbers, identifying the mobile subscribers that connected with it. Other information, like location, text and voice conversations, can also be extracted. Police claim they were only used to sort out suspects’ phones, but not locate or eavesdrop on them.
US law enforcement has used stingrays in their investigations, but Canadian agencies haven’t disclosed their use of the devices or even if they had them.
In a previous story it was revealed that the RCMP had obtained the consumer-level global encryption key for BBM — BlackBerry’s messaging client with end-to-end encryption — in 2010. The key itself was not disclosed in court documents.
The CBC has reported that BlackBerry has assisted law enforcement in many countries to obtain and decrypt BBM transmissions, giving away information like BlackBerry IDs, names, addresses, PINs, BBM conversation details, contacts lists and more.
Even with these revelations, we don’t know what exact role BlackBerry played if it played any role in decrypting the messages. We don’t know what type of Stingray was used, nor where and how it was used.
The Crown attempted to appeal the press’s request to lift the publication ban on the court documents earlier this year, saying that disclosure “would tend to identify which devices are used by the RCMP and would allow ill-intended cellphone users to circumvent the police techniques.”