Smartphone Makers Gave India Spy Tools, 'Leaked' Memos Say
Indian Air Force Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets during a joint U.S.-Indian-South Korean military exercise in Nevada in 2008.
CREDIT: U.S. Air Force
Apple, Nokia and Research In Motion (RIM) gave Indian intelligence agencies secret access to encrypted smartphone communications as the price of doing business in the country, according to what appear to be leaked Indian government documents.
The purported documents, if they are real, indicate that the smartphone giants gave India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Indian military intelligence "backdoor" tools that would let the Indian agencies read encrypted emails sent to and from RIM's BlackBerrys, Apple's iPhones and Nokia smartphones.
"Military Intelligence and the CBI have been conducting bilateral cellular and Internet surveillance operations since April 2011," reads a document allegedly from the Directorate General of Military Intelligence and publicly posted online.
The memos refer to an agreement between India's Ministry of Defense and RIM, Nokia and Apple, that considers data interception and surveillance part of the "general framework" allowing the smartphone makers to sell their devices in India.
A "decision was made earlier this year to sign an agreement with mobile manufacturers (MM) in exchange for the Indian market presence," the military intelligence document reads.
Research In Motion refused to comment on the specific allegations made in the documents, but told SecurityNewsDaily via email that "RIM maintains a consistent global standard for lawful access requirements that does not include special deals for specific countries."
RIM also said that its "Lawful Access Principles" mandated that the amount of access to customer data that its client carriers give to their host governments "must be technology and vendor neutral, allowing no greater access to BlackBerry consumer services than the carriers and regulators already impose on RIM's competitors and other similar communications technology companies."
The company pointed out the special situation regarding BlackBerry Enterprise Server networks, in which BlackBerry communications are controlled not by RIM, but by the corporations and government agencies that buy BlackBerry services.
"Contrary to any rumors," the email said, "RIM truly has no ability to provide its customers' encryption keys."
Apple and Nokia did not respond to requests for comment.
The leaked files arose from last week's disclosure that a group of South Asian hackers, calling themselves the Lords of Dharmaraja, had allegedly broken into Indian government servers and stolen documents including the source code to Norton and Symantec anti-virus software . Symantec confirmed the legitimacy of the source code, but would not comment on its provenance.
The purported Indian intelligence memos also state that the backdoors provided by Apple, Nokia and RIM allowed India to spy on American government officials.
The memos include a set of purported private email exchanges in September and October 2011 among members of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), a congressional commission tasked with investigating and monitoring the economic and trade relationship, as well as reports of cyberwarfare and espionage , between the United States and China.
The memos state that Indian naval intelligence personnel were sent to China as a result of the emails.