Pakistan bans BlackBerry’s encrypted messaging services

Pakistan has reportedly ordered the nation’s carriers to cease offering services that route email through BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), a product that among other things encrypts email.

Pakistan’s Express Tribune reports that the nation’s Ministry of Interior last Friday instructed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to tell telcos they must not offer the service from December 1st, depriving Pakistanis access to a secure e-mail service.

Security concerns have been cited as the reason behind the decision, with Pakistani authorities said to be worried that the origin and messages sent through BES can’t be tracked. Decryption of messages handled by BES also appears to be beyond Pakistan’s capabilities and is therefore another reason for the ban.

PTA spokesperson Khurram Mehran told the Express Tribune that there are only 4,000 or 5,000 BES users in Pakistan, so not many people will be inconvenienced. It’s felt subscribers have been given sufficient time to migrate to an unencrypted service.

The Wall Street Journal has confirmed the order to stop offering BES-as-a-service.

Pakistan faces many security challenges and is under pressure from allies to hold up its end in the “war on terror”, but its security forces are also often accused of pursuing their own ends. Just what’s afoot here is therefore hard to surmise.

Easier to assess is the impact on BlackBerry, which is pitching BES and the rest of its software portfolio as worthy purchases no matter the state of its handset business. Pakistan’s not a colossal market, so losing access to the nation’s telcos won’t be a nasty cut. There may even be some upside in being able to say BES is so secure a government doesn’t like it.