Personal Privacy and Your Work Blackberry
For many of us, the line between work and our personal life isn’t nearly as clear as it used to be. We bring our work laptop home, we take our iPad to work, and some of us are issued a Blackberry by our employer. We know that our employer can — one way or another — see almost anything we do on our work computer. But how about our work Blackberry?
Before I get into specifics, there is one general rule you should always keep in mind:
If an electronic device, including a computer or Blackberry, belongs to your employer, they have the right to ask you for it at any time, and to read any information they can find on it. So, if you’re really concerned about your privacy, don’t use company assets for anything personal.
Having said that, many employers do allow, or at least tolerate, limited personal use of company assets, and many employees do make some personal use, especially in cases where the use does not increase the cost to the employer.
When it comes to the Blackberry, a frequent question is, “What can the administrator at work see?”
It’s important to understand that there are two configurations for the Blackberry, BIS and BES.
BIS is the BlackBerry Internet Service. If gives your BlackBerry access to the Internet, including for email, the web etc. BIS is popular among consumers and some small businesses.
BES, on the other hand, stands for BlackBerry Enterprise Server. In the BES configuration, your employer runs a server through which the BlackBerry communicates. And, as you might guess, that allows the company to monitor a lot of information.
If you’re wondering about your BlackBerry, navigate to “Manage Connections” and select “Server Status” — where you will be able to see if you are connected to a BES. While it is possible to be connected to both BIS and BES, if you are connected to a BES, you should assume that when you surf the web from the device it goes through the BES.
If you are only using BIS, you can stop reading here. Your data is flowing directly to the mobile carrier and onto the Internet. However, if you work for a larger company or government, and they have issued you a BlackBerry, you are almost certainly using BES.
BES capability has evolved throughout the years, and there are many misconceptions. At the time of writing, BES has the capability to acccess an extensive amount of information:
- Corporate email
- Corporate calendar
- Corporate Address book, memo pad, tasks
- Browser bookmarks
- Browser site history
- PIN messages
- Text messages (SMS)
- MMS message text, but not currently any photo sent/received
- Phone call data (Date/time, number called/received, length of call)
- Blackberry Messenger data
- The device’s GPS coordinates every 15 to 60 minutes (according to RIM the user will be prompted and must click Yes to enable location tracking)
- What applications are installed on the device
- The operating system version
In addition, since many use a wireless backup, in theory anything that is backed up wirelessly could be viewed by restoring the data to a new device.
To keep this in perspective, some options like PIN and SMS (text) logging are turned off by default, and administrators may choose to turn off other options like logging phone calls. But, BlackBerry enterprise users should be aware that the capability exists. When the features are activated, telephone call, PIN, and SMS information is written to a text file on the BES server, where it can be read by any administrator with access to the server.
So what is not logged?
As far as I can tell, RIM does not provide any capability to record the actual voice telephone call (only information about the call), and messages to and from third party Instant Messenger applications like MSN, GTalk, and Yahoo are not monitored or logged by BES. In addition, email sent and received through BIS is not routed through BES. However, administrators can see that these applications are in use and block them. Third party applications could also potentially be installed on your BlackBerry to monitor these services. Finally, don’t forget that a BlackBerry connect to BES can be backed up remotely and restored to another device, providing access to almost everything on it.
Please note that while this information is believed to be correct at the time of writing, there are no guarantees. If you want your personal information to remain personal, keep it off you’re employer’s devices.