French government bans BlackBerry devices amid security concerns

French government members and their advisors have been told not to use BlackBerry smartphones, for national security reasons.

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French government members and their advisors have been told not to use BlackBerry smartphones, for national security reasons.

The ban on BlackBerry devices is just one of the IT challenges facing new National Assembly members as they take their seats following Sunday's elections.

The devices, made by Research in Motion (RIM), send and receive email through just a handful of servers in the UK and North America – a reality brought home when a failed software upgrade to the North American servers in April abruptly halted service to BlackBerry users there.

This concentration of data poses a threat to national security because of the risk of data interception, according to Alain Juillet, senior economic intelligence advisor to French prime minister Francois Fillon.

The French secretary-general for national defence first circulated advice to government officials two years ago, warning them not to use BlackBerry devices. The same advice has now been reissued, Juillet's office confirmed.

RIM hit back, insisting that all data sent over the BlackBerry network was secure because it is encrypted with the 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), and because email messages’ origin could be traced or analysed for content. RIM cannot view the data flowing over its own network, the company said.

"Recent news reports, originating in France and rehashing a two year old rumour that speculates that data transmitted over the BlackBerry Enterprise Solution can be intercepted and read by the NSA (National Security Agency) in the US or other 'spy' organisations are based on false and misleading information," the company said.

The UK government and NATO have both approved the BlackBerry Enterprise Solution for wireless transmission of sensitive data under "restricted" classification, RIM said.

Security agencies in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Austria and Canada had accredited the network, with additional certification processes under way in the Netherlands and Germany.

Ben Ames in Boston contributed to this story.

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