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[01-07-2005] BlackBerry battle chills Bay St. gossips http://www.globetechnology.com/servl...ry/Technology/
BlackBerry battle chills Bay St. gossips |
By SINCLAIR STEWART AND RICHARD BLOOM
From Friday's Globe and Mail
Toronto — Most morning meetings on Bay Street are devoted to dreaming up the next megamerger or predicting the day's big winner on the stock markets. But as Canada's deal makers huddled over their coffees Thursday, the conversation was dominated by a very different concern: how to make sure their BlackBerry messages remain private.
At one brokerage house, traders and bankers spent much of their early meeting discussing whether employers, or even regulators, could tap into so-called PIN messages — those sent between BlackBerry users via a device's personal identification number instead of a normal e-mail address. (Each BlackBerry has a numerical PIN associated with the device.)
Until this week, this was considered to be a secure means of communication, safe from the prying eyes of bosses and outsiders. But that illusion was shattered by a nasty legal brawl that has erupted between Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Genuity Capital Markets, a new investment-banking firm started by a group of ex-CIBC executives.
CIBC is suing six of its former employees, alleging that they took confidential information and orchestrated a “calculated scheme” to recruit colleagues to Genuity while they were still working for the bank.
At the heart of the case are scores of personal e-mails and BlackBerry messages between the former employees that CIBC claims are evidence of the plot.
“I would say that up to today, 99.9 per cent of the world felt this was secure,” said one brokerage official. “I think that's like finding out there's no Santa Claus.”
The official said employees in Toronto's financial district were hounding their information technology departments for answers as to whether BlackBerrys could be monitored. When people chat via PIN messages, they will often communicate things they would not divulge in a regular e-mail, he said.
“If you've got a guy's PIN, it's like another level of intimacy. It's like the next level in a relationship on Bay Street.”
An investment banker said he was surprised that the former CIBC employees were so naive as to believe their communications could not be tracked. He said it was especially odd, given that one of the CIBC bankers was a technology specialist and another was a lawyer.
The reality is, virtually every message sent and received through a company-issued BlackBerry is retrievable.
“It's a mistake to assume any corporate communication is not subject to be subpoenaed, or to be looked at and examined,” said Brian Sharwood, a telecommunications consultant in Toronto.
“You would have to be a fool to assume that kind of thing.”
Experts in the IT industry say that unless the device is disconnected from the company's server — and changed, for example, to a personal e-mail account offered through a private Internet service provider — every message is likely stored in a corporate computer.
“The only way around that is to disconnect yourself from your corporate e-mail,” said Lynn Greiner, a Toronto-based IT executive.
“If you were to disassociate your BlackBerry from the enterprise server, you would be able to send and receive mail privately over whatever account you want.”
However, employees using PINs to pass confidential information back and forth may not know the messages are indeed traceable, as companies can buy software that allows them to archive the e-mails.
BlackBerry users who have a personal account can send a PIN message that bypasses their Internet service provider's server and stores the text solely on the device (similar to the popular text-messaging services of cellphone companies).
While administrators in so-called sensitive sectors can disable PIN-to-PIN messaging, many choose to allow employees the service but insist on archiving the e-mails.CIBC isn't saying how it got access to the BlackBerry messages, but states in its lawsuit that the executives “seemed to have believed [they] did not create any record of their e-mails on the [bank's] central computer systems.”
David Kassie, a star investment banker who was forced to resign as head of CIBC's brokerage arm last February, said in an affidavit this week that Genuity has not improperly poached any of the bank's staff or taken confidential information. Mr. Kassie, who is named in the suit, is a founding partner of Genuity and its largest shareholder.
A spokeswoman for the maker of BlackBerry, the Waterloo, Ont.-based Research In Motion, would not comment on the matter.