The companies that altered BlackBerry devices, has also led to damaging and often repeated rumors.
The FBI has arrested the founder and CEO of Phantom Secure, Vincent Ramos. Phantom Secure is a Canada based seller of modified encrypted phones. The charges that are stacked against Ramos include racketeering, conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs, conspiracy to distribute narcotics, and aiding and abetting.
While the charges are being brought against Ramos in a California court by the FBI, Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police contributed to the investigation by purchasing phones from the company with a clearly stated intent to commit crimes. When undercover federal agents met with Ramos in Las Vegas in 2017 posing as drug traffickers, Ramos informed them ““We made it—we made it specifically for this too.”
The evidence appears strong against Ramos, and if that story intrigues you, I suggest you head over to Motherboard for more details. But there is an aspect to the story that is only touched on there, and it’s an aspect I believe needs to be spotlighted.
The phones used by Phantom Secure, and other “secure phone” suppliers, are typically BlackBerry phones. It appears that now many, including Phantom, are now offering Android phones, but historically, these were always BlackBerry phones. And not modern phones. These phone suppliers would take BBOS phones, and modify them. These modifications include both the hardware and software of the device. Camera’s are removed, and Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) is installed. Once modifications are complete, these BlackBerry devices are really only BlackBerry in hardware only. The ability to make calls, use GPS, use email or messaging, any of the things you would use a BlackBerry or any smartphone for, has been disabled. All that is left, is the ability to send encrypted messages through overseas PGP servers.
Why does this matter? Because of stories that have a tendency of popping up. Stories of BlackBerry’s getting hacked. Now, I’m sure you remember the story of the Dutch police hacking BlackBerry. The story tends to make it’s rounds every year or so, usually used as a way to reinforce another story that sounds detrimental to BlackBerry. The actual story is that Dutch Police hacked PGP BlackBerry devices. In fact, Dutch police arrested people involved in producing and selling those phones in 2016 and in 2017
Perhaps, as the existence of these PGP phones become more well known, thanks to the arrests of those that choose to utilize these devices for criminal enterprises, people will begin to realize the truth. That the “hacked BlackBerry phones” aren’t really BlackBerry phones at all. It’s not BlackBerry software being hacked, but PGP software. Criminals can enjoy their Pretty Good Privacy while they can, but I enjoy the best privacy with official BlackBerry hardware and software.