Monday, August 2, 2010

Muscat Confidential reaches 1000 Facebook fans! Plus, UAE and Saudi blackmail Blackberry: Let us read people's emails or else!

I was pleased, flattered, and somewhat amazed to see that the Facebook fan page for Muscat Confidential has already hit the 1000+ members total.

While I don't have anything to do with the page directly, I'd like to thank Mohammed Al-Tamami (Omani Social Media Consultant; Founder & CEO of his company Tamami Networks LLC) and his helpers for taking the initiative and hosting/administering the Muscat Confidential fan page. Not only has it encouraged readers and allowed them to more easily share MC with their friends, it also enabled people to keep in touch with the blog on the couple of times I was blocked by the infamous Omani telecom internet censorship filters...

And a big 'Thank You' to the fans of Muscat Confidential. You can probably see some of their avatars on the right of this post. It certainly helps me to blog knowing there are least a few people who mostly like what goes out. Oman, and especially Muscat, is a pretty small niche in the global scheme of things, online particularly. But the virtual community in Oman is growing fast, and has already made a change in the way the mainstream media act and are allowed to act.

I hope you keep following the blog. And more importantly, please feel free to send me emails [email: undercover (dot) dragon (at), by the way!] if you have a story idea or come across something you thing others should be aware of. I usually reply to most emails when I get time. And as we are not Wikileaks, I can't promise to print everything...


UAE and Saudi attempt to force RIM to provide access to their Blackberry users' encrypted emails

The UAE has basically confirmed that because blackberry encrypt their emails, they will no longer allow the service to be supported within the UAE (same for Saudi). Yes, big brother is watching. Or not, I guess, if you had a blackberry.

While the UAE and Saudi are playing the 'security card', this seems to me to be pretty bogus. Sophisticated nasty terrorist organisations have access to military grade email encryption for years, which started more than a decade ago with a programme called PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). The real crazies don't even have mobiles or use email, but use physical couriers and old fashioned 'walks in the park', such is their fear of the omnipresent American NSA and it's talents (thank goodness).

Perhaps more likely is that the Saudi and UAE authorities are trying to control the petty 'crime' of social networking and singles flirting. More interesting will be the response of both RIM and the UAE/Saudi public to their 'request'.

DUBAI/RIYADH (Reuters) - More than a million BlackBerry users may have key services in Saudi Arabia and the UAE cut off after authorities stepped up demands on smartphone maker Research In Motion for access to encrypted messages sent over the device.

BlackBerry's Messenger application has spread rapidly in the Gulf Arab region but because the data is encrypted and sent to offshore servers, it cannot be tracked locally.

"Certain BlackBerry services allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns," the United Arab Emirates' Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) said in a statement.

The UAE said it would suspend BlackBerry Messenger, email and Web browser services from October 11 until a fix was found, while industry sources said Saudi Arabia had ordered local telecom companies to freeze Messenger this month.

Sunday's moves cap wrangling with regulators over the issue, which first surfaced in 2007.

India raised similar security concerns last week, and Bahrain in April warned against using BlackBerry Messenger to distribute local news. As far back as 2007, France cautioned officials about using the services.

Indian security officials were concerned that BlackBerry's encrypted data could be used to coordinate acts against the state. They have clamped down on mobile phone operators in the wake of 2008 attacks that killed 166 people in Mumbai.

The UAE, home to Gulf financial hub Dubai, said it would halt BlackBerry services until an "acceptable solution" was developed and applied.

Users of the device said that could mean disruptions for companies and individuals who rely on the services, including almost 700,000 in Saudi Arabia and some 500,000 in the UAE.

"It's a final decision but we are continuing discussions with them," Mohammed Al Ghanem, director general of the UAE's TRA, told Reuters.


I personally don't mind the NSA knowing everything I email, and have operated on that basis for decades too. But somehow I don't trust the Saudi and UAE chaps as much. These are the people who lied to the UAE users of Blackberry's last year when they tried to slip their own secret spywear onto the devices.

Just over a year ago, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion criticized a directive by the UAE's state-owned mobile operator Etisalat that told the company's more than 145,000 BlackBerry users to install software described as an "upgrade . . . required for service enhancements." RIM said tests showed that the update was actually spy software that could allow outsiders to access private information on the phones. It strongly distanced itself from Etisalat's decision and provided instructions for users to remove the software.

No word yet from Omani Authorities if they will join the ban.

The paranoid may find this article on hi-tech surveillance interesting...

Saudi teens - and anyone else - who want to communicate securely despite snooping UAE policemen should perhaps check out PGP Mobile. It lets you install top level encryption on your smart phone:

How does PGP Mobile protect email and email attachments?

Email is the essential business tool that enables rapid exchange of business critical information and when unsecured, it provides a significant threat to potential loss or theft of the contents. Sending an email is like sending a postcard through the mail. It’s sent in clear text which makes it easy for anyone with simple tools to read an email while it’s in transit, which can be especially dangerous if unauthorized parties are using tools to look for specific keywords or content (like new product code words or social security numbers).

PGP Mobile 9.10 provides email and email attachment encryption for smartphones running Windows Mobile 6.0 or 6.1 Professional Edition. This policy-based email encryption occurs automatically with few changes to the user experience. Encryption happens on the smartphone itself (vs. at a gateway) so it provides powerful protection by enabling true end-to-end encryption. It leverages PGP Universal™ Server for deployment, management, and consistently applied email policies while integrating into the existing enterprise infrastructure.

Like I said, perhaps best to just assume someone is listening. And live in a country with a strong constitution...

I'd like to add that Oman's Internal Security Service [ISS] do an outstanding job. Perhaps the reason the Omanis haven't followed their neighbours' threat against Blackberries is that they aren't as lazy as their UAE colleagues and already have a handle on things...


  1. I think Oman will ban BB messaging and internet within 3 months unless something drastic happens in RIM.

    ISS and TRA were not aware that they cant snoop on BB messages and e-mails, now they do know, it is just a matter of time before the clamp down.

  2. Is GMail going to be banned next, since they use SSL (https) ?

    Too bad no one uses Windows Mobile phones anymore.

    Android phones have built-in VPN capability!!!

  3. Also, PGP is commercial software. Check out the free alternative GPG

  4. UAE and Saudi might be afraid of getting spy. I think the issue of Russian's spies arrested in the United States influenced their decisions to make this move against Blackberry users.

  5. Well i must say, as one of the TamNet team, I feel flattered and happy to see your post today.

    Congratulation MC, you are my online favourite blogspot and wish you more fans to come :-)

    Maryam- The Online Queen.

  6. I do not understand the thing with BlackBarry, I thinks it should be band coz as it is people are hocked on internet, mobile, sms and other technology related stuff. And there are not social activities or what so ever with people if they are setting together you see everyone is on his balckbarry chatting or doing any other stuff that the internet allows. NO ONE IS TALKING AT ALL.

  7. Ah yes 'spywear' as you said in your post. I always liked long coats myself ;)

  8. In short, we better light a candle than cursing the dark!


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