BlackBerry jammed: A recipe for tech trouble

Start with BlackBerry Enterprise server, add an error message, and mix in a smartphone. Then watch your privacy crumble

As part of my duties, I run the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) at our office. The system for the most part is self-sufficient and doesn't require a lot of troubleshooting -- I'm called maybe a few times a week. But certain instances are more time-consuming, including a recent mishap that caused an unexpected privacy breach.

There are about 100 employees who work from the location, of which maybe 40 use BlackBerry devices. The way our company has it set up, the employees own their smartphones but connect to our server, so it's expected that they use the phones for both personal and professional purposes.

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On this particular day, I was troubleshooting an error message an employee was getting on his BlackBerry. Based on the error, the solution was to plug his smartphone into a PC via USB, then use Desktop Manager to detect his phone and help fix the problem. Easy enough -- I got started.

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I plugged his phone into my computer to connect to the program. The software was already set up for my own BlackBerry device. When I plugged in my coworker's, it asked if I wanted to change the settings to his, which I did and got ready to move to the next step.

But here's where the unexpected occurred. Instead of detecting and associating his phone with the program, things went horribly wrong. Telling the software to change from my device to his must have set something to make the BES think that his phone was mine, and vice versa to some extent.

In horror, I watched as our BBM contacts, notes, Outlook access, and Internet history/bookmarks essentially got mashed up together on his device and on mine. I saw my life flash before my eyes as I realized that some of my personal and professional information was now on his device, and the other way around.

Luckily, the employee was understanding and not the sort to poke around in other people's business -- and expressed some confidence in me. This was a good thing since we could have easily accessed each other's business and personal information if we'd wanted to.

I lost several days to fixing the mess and the initial problem he'd been having, and there wasn't any long-term damage or data loss. But it was startling to think how quickly and easily somebody can have access to a lot of information about another person these days.

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