SS8

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SS8 describes itself as providing "lawful interception solutions" to law enforcement while also providing compliance services to institutions subject to various forms of regulation.

Covert Surveillance of UAE Blackberry Customers

In 2009, SS8 was discovered to have partnered with Etisalat, a major state-affiliated telecom firm in the UAE, to install an instance of the firm's spyware on the Blackberries of Etisalat customers. Before being revealed by Blackberry producer Research in Motion as surveillance software, SS8's spyware was passed off to customers as a performance upgrade.

It's as yet unknown whether or what to extent SS8 is involved in other instances of covert surveillance on populations elsewhere in the world. And although likely unrelated to Romas/COIN, the incident demonstrates the extent to which telecom firms in the Arab world - particularly those connected to governments - would be willing to participate in such programs.

A summary of the incident and subsequent media fallout may be found in the following U.S. diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks.

UNCLAS ABU DHABI 000789 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ARP, DRL AND EEB/CIP/BA (DOW) 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: ECPS KPAO PGOV AE
SUBJECT: UAE SPYWARE GOES PUBLIC 
 
¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Widespread local and international media coverage 
of UAE telecom giant Etisalat's reported attempt to install spyware 
developed by a U.S. firm on local BlackBerries has dominated a 
normally quiet summer news cycle.  Etisalat (Emirates 
Telecommunications Corporation) denied that the "performance 
enhancing patch" was spyware, but BlackBerry developer RIM refuted 
the claim and offered instructions on how to remove it.  The public 
uproar suggests Etisalat may lose some BlackBerry customers, but its 
dominant market position is unlikely to change.  END SUMMARY. 
 
¶2. (SBU) On July 11, some EmbOffs received Etisalat text messages on 
their official BlackBerries stating "Etisalat is always keen to 
provide you with the best BlackBerry service and ultimate 
experience, for that we will be sending you a performance 
enhancement patch that you need to install on your device."  While 
EmbOffs received no follow up messages, local English-language media 
began reporting that some Etisalat BlackBerry customers were 
experiencing battery drainage after installing a performance 
enhancing patch.  Independent Dubai-based Gulf News was particularly 
critical, even semi-official Abu Dhabi-based The National carried 
significant coverage, and similar criticism appeared in the Arabic 
language press. 
 
¶3. (SBU) On July 15, Etisalat released a statement claiming that a 
BlackBerry settings conflict resulted in "a slight technical 
default."  However, on July 17, Research in Motion (RIM), the 
Canadian developer of BlackBerry, published its own statement that 
Etisalat "appears to have distributed a telecommunications 
surveillance application that was designed and developed by (U.S. 
firm) SS8."  The statement also provides instructions on how to 
detect and remove third party applications.  Subsequent press 
reporting suggested Etisalat was planning to meet with RIM, but 
there has been no public information that meeting has occurred. 
 
¶4. (SBU) While there has been little speculation about why Etisalat 
would be eavesdropping, the firm's reputation has suffered.  An 
online poll of Etisalat BlackBerry users revealed 36 percent of 
respondents planned to cancel their Etisalat service as a result of 
the spyware fiasco and switch to rival provider Emirates Integrated 
Telecommunication Company (du).  However, Etisalat, which is 60 
percent owned by the UAE government, is likely to retain its 
significant market share.  Its stock price has risen marginally 
along with a general rise in local markets. 
 
¶5. (SBU) COMMENT: The critical press coverage is particularly 
remarkable as Etisalat is majority owned by the UAEG, the dominant 
telecommunications company and a significant source of revenue for 
the federal government.  That criticism appeared in Arabic-language 
media, not just English media favored by expats, represents crossing 
another information firebreak.  However, few have publically 
speculated why or at whose bequest Etisalat would be installing 
spyware or what would be done with the information gathered 
(reported in other channels); it appears some journalistic red lines 
still exist.  END COMMENT. 
 
¶6. (SBU) NOTE: IRM Washington has confirmed that Mission BlackBerry 
users are protected from such spyware. END NOTE. 
GREENE

See Also

SS8's website

July 2010 BBC article citing "concern" by UAE authorities over Blackberry "security risks"

Obama Wants New Law to Wiretap the Internet