Monday's unusual recommendation came four days after contestants in an annual hacking competition exposed a serious security vulnerability in a fully patched BlackBerry Torch 9800. By exploiting a bug in the phone's web browser, they were able to write a file to its storage system and steal a complete list of contacts and a cache of pictures stored on the device.
Unlike Apple's iPhone and Microsoft's Windows 7 Mobile, the BlackBerry doesn't come with ASLR, or address space layout randomization, which makes it hard for attackers to predict the memory locations of their malicious payloads, according to the hacking contestants, who claimed $15,000 in prize money for their exploit. The RIM smartphones also lack another protection known as data execution prevention and offer only a rudimentary security sandbox to isolate apps from more sensitive parts of the OS, they said.
RIM frequently markets the BlackBerry as a safer smartphone alternative that makes them more suitable for corporate networks, where security is at a premium.
The integer overflow that felled the BlackBerry was found in Webkit, the same browser rendering engine used in both the iPhone and smartphones that run on Google's Android operating system.
Members of RIM's security team are “investigating the issue to determine the best resolution for protecting” users. Affected models include the Torch 9800, Bold 9700, Bold 9650, Curve 9300, and Pearl 9100. ®