LONDON – Hackers defaced a website belonging to Blackberry maker Research in Motion Tuesday afternoon, after the company said it would aid London police investigating several days of rioting that have already led to one death.
Police investigating the extraordinary escalation of London's rioting and disorder believe that instant messages sent via Blackberry smartphones played a vital role in coordinating the riots. Patrick Spence, managing director at manufacturer Research in Motion (RIM), said the company had reached out to police to offer its aid, potentially turning over messages from rioters.
Hackers promptly took issue with that plan, defacing a blog run by RIM in retaliation.
"No Blackberry you will NOT assist the police," wrote one member of the hacker group TeaMp0isoN, which claimed responsibility for the hack.
The Blackberry blog was briefly taken offline and subsequently restored to its original state, but an archive page of the hack reveals an angry message from a TeaMp0isoN hacker who calls himself Trick.
"You Will _NOT_ assist the UK Police because if u do innocent members of the public who were at the wrong place at the wrong time and owned a blackberry will get charged for no reason at all, the Police are looking to arrest as many people as possible to save themselves from embarrassment."
The hacker claimed to have accessed RIM employee information, including addresses, names, and phone numbers.
"If u assist the police, we _WILL_ make this information public and pass it on to rioters …. do you really want a bunch of angry youths on your employees' doorsteps?"
A spokesperson for Blackberry was not immediately available to confirm the hack.
The hacker claimed to be responding to a statement Spence had written on the blog about the rioting, in which ne said "we feel for those impacted by the riots in London" and promised to "engage with the authorities to assist in any way we can."
The company complies with a UK bill called the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which may force it to cooperate with officials by intercepting and handing over relevant communications on the private, instant messaging service on the Blackberry network. Police have said that free, virtually instantaneous messages between Blackberry owners have fueled and spread the riots since Saturday.
As messages can be passed to hundreds of users in minutes, the technology appeared to have been used to reach disparate groups of youths across the capital.
One youth worker told The (London) Times, "People have been talking on BBM all day deciding where they'd go next. They said Peckham would take the next hit. The stuff in Brixton, people used BBM to organize where to meet."
Alleged drug dealer Mark Duggan, whose shooting by police sparked the initial disturbances on Saturday night, used BBM to send a final message to his girlfriend. He wrote, "The Feds are following me."
After Saturday's unrest at Tottenham, north London, one widely circulated BBM message read, "Everyone in edmanton enfield wood green everywhere in north link up at enfield town station at 4 o clock sharp!!!"
Experts told the Wall Street Journal Tuesday morning prior to the hack that it was unfair to single out the BBM service for its role.
"Certainly, it's a lot easier for people to communicate with each other in real time via some of these services but that's a fact of life," Ian Maude, an analyst at Enders Analysis, told the Journal. "They're not good or evil in themselves, its the purposes for which people use them."
News wires contributed to this report.