New York Governor Andrew Cuomo uses BBM and PIN messages in attempt to remain untraceable

Andrew Cuomo
By Adam Zeis on 18 Jul 2012 02:33 pm EDT

According to the NY Daily News, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo refuses to use his state-issued email address for staff communication, opting for the secure services of his BlackBerry instead. In-person chats or phone calls are still his first choice, but if that isn't possible the staffers are instructed to use PIN messaging on their BlackBerry to contact him.

Why? Because, according to the Daily News, he believes the messages are untraceable - meaning no one can snoop and there is no paper trail. Only those close to the Governor know his PIN to get in touch with him, and if too many people get a hold of it, he just swaps out devices (thus a new PIN) and starts fresh. This is all contradictory to the fact that Cuomo had stated he would run the most transparent government in New York history.

Unfortunately for the Governor this isn't the case however. Both BBM and PIN messages are encrypted, yes, but they can still be recovered and unscrambled should there be a need.

Many elected officials have been nabbed in the past either through email, text messages or the like. Cuomo is trying making it a point to steer clear of any problems, mostly thanks to BBM and PIN messaging. PIN messages are as secure as it gets, but while the messages are private, RIM still has the ability to dig them up even after deleted from a device. The information and data that is sent back and forth between the Governor and his staff could always be subject to investigation by authorities, so while using these methods does have a bit more privacy than email, it's still not a foolproof method for hiding anything controversial.

If the users are on a BES the messages could all be stored if IT has enabled logging, and even if on a BIS the messages are still never gone for good.

While some think Cuomo is playing it smart using these methods, others argue that it's secretive and against his promises of a transparent government. 

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

Source: NY Daily News
Adam Zeis Adam Zeis "Mobile Nations Content Strategist" 3740 (articles) 2892 (forum posts)

Reader comments

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo uses BBM and PIN messages in attempt to remain untraceable


"While some think Cuomo is playing it smart using these methods, others argue that it's secretive and against his promises of a transparent government. "

It's both: smart, in that he's trying to avoid detection, underhanded in that he's trying to avoid accountability.

It's also more than a little galling, considering that he and his government would probably prefer that their citizenry have no similar options.

He's a public official, and while there's an argument for information security (and BES does this well), trying to ensure everything is off the record so as to be able to claim plausible deniability is, well, dirty. Par for the course, but dirty.

Never been a fan of him myself, and when it comes to politics, I always take what's said with a grain of salt. That said, he is on the right track. The only way to get more secure is to use military grade encryption methods, and to very tightly control who has access to what, and how the system is set up. I'm sure the president with his BB is on a very tightly encrypted setup. Moreso than our friend the governor.

Well that explains why so many politicians....and drug dealers....use Blackberry phones. Certainly opens up the door for some rather entertaining advertisements.

I have absolutely no issues with him using pin messaging. In fact I applaud it. If I were in his shoes I would be doing the same thing and telling the media and every other nosey a-hole to go pound sand.

Er, the New York Daily news isn't exactly the paragon of serious journalism. The whole story is probably loaded: The governor almost surely knows his messages are traceable, and his reasons may be less (or more) nefarious than insinuated in this "story". Adam treats the story as gospel truth -- not his intent I'm sure, but that's how it comes across.

It might be a good idea for CrackBerry to add more caveats when repeating stories like this from jaded sources. For example:

"Andrew Cuomo ALLEGEDLY uses BBM and PIN messages in attempt to remain untraceable"

"Andrew Cuomo IS ACCUSED OF using BBM and PIN messages in attempt to remain untraceable"

Or even better: Ignore this kind of story altogether.

Think about it: This is not so dissimilar to the anti-RIM propaganda bandied about these days that everyone is (rightly) complaining about. CB should avoid the appearance of getting involved or taking sides in political affairs of this type.

It's funny, I work quite a bit with the State of NY, even met Cuomo... and I don't say I'm a fan of his, but he's supported a lot of great initiatives, as well as some hair-brained ones...

I actually see why he would want to do something like this. First, let's look at where the story broke, the NY Daily News.... This is one of NY's most biased tabloids (typically right wing). The media (in general) twists and distorts facts... I'm certain that his reasoning for using something more secure is to avoid premature, distorted views of possible policy changes, etc.

That's my opinion... Agree that it appears "dirty" but let's not put our tinfoil hats on too quickly.

So - what are these government officials going to do if RIM did go out of business. The US government is in the automobile and banking industries through bail-outs - maybe they should "bail-out" RIM.

RIM isn't broke yet... And I'm certain RIM has trumping policies in place that will either perminently remove or seal previous PIN/BBM messages sent through the NOC.

I'm sure the general public would be outcrying for this as well. Consumers don't want their chat histories out there for some other company to decrypt and read.

Again, no tinfoil hats. Please!

"While some think Cuomo is playing it smart using these methods, others argue that it's secretive and against his promises of a transparent government. "

Crackberry must be getting pretty desperate for traffic if they are resorting to politics for discussion material. What's next, a religious question?

Lets look at the people they are trying to protect from. Remember, RIM is a solid company and would only go into this data if ordered by the Justice Department or someone for very specific and dramatic reasons. So, no they can't really hide from the good guys.


RIM's encryption and traceability is essentially impenetrable by Joe Blow from the Enquirer or some other despicable "news" source. Even some corporate or political competitor that could easily tap into an iPhone or Android simply has no access with a BlackBerry.

BlackBerry is the best there is today. Period. If kids want to watch Netflix then let them but people that need to maintain security and want the best communications device in the world do chose BlackBerry.

It actually needs a warrant or similar order signed by a Judge. Demands from government offices and departmants don't cut any ice in the developed west.

Rather than keeping secrets he shouldn't the first thing I thought of was that he would want to prevent hacking by the likes of Robert Murdoch.

Any celebrities who want to maintain any form of privacy should consider using bb. That could be a good selling point. As oppose to those who twit about anything and everything they are doing at every moment.

Smart man, there is a distinct difference between "transparent" and "full-blown no privacy". Transparent governing is to give clear and honest reason behind each and every decision. No privacy is to let every average Joe that wants to access to your communications. Remember folks: state secret is state secret until rightly declassified

There is a need at certain levels of government (state or federal) to maintain security and privacy in OFFICIAL communications. Therefore, using BBM and PIN messaging is smart for legitimate government use. And as I understand it, BBM and PIN messages are routed through RIM's servers so unless they are logged by the local government servers the process to obtain a court order to get to those messages is prohibitively complicated for just a casual inspection. Of course, if there are RIM servers in New York it would be a little bit easier, but court orders between states and especially between countries is a real pain to get done.

"This is all contradictory to the fact that Cuomo had stated he would run the most transparent government in New York history."

That is an opinion that using PIN he wants less transperency, not a fact. Not from the states so I don;t know the background on this guy, but I would argue he wants more security, and the ability to change contact number if the public gets ahold of it and spams (like it also says).

Wanting security does not mean lack of transperancy. Even the most non-malicious government messages in the world aren't meant for the everyone and prying eyes to see. Its still official business, not an internet forum.

Doesn't suprise me that someone from Jersey is trying to smear the reputation of a NY governor!

Come on Adam. This is simply being sensationalized. How in the world is it a lack of transparency, when a government official (with quite a serious job) uses BB encrypted communication? Its not like anyone promised voters the permission to access to any and all private/sensitive government communications. In fact, I personally believe that a large majority of citizens would see that as an unreasonable request, as well as an unnecessary security risk. As you said-RIM encryption is about as secure as it gets..BUT not so secure, that its *completely* irretrievable.. so what's the problem?

Encrypted and secure, but we see that police can request access to fight criminal activity. I'm okay with that.

Bottom line is, RIM does it right. It's so easy to overlook security, but when it's not there, you miss it... especially when bitten! And security is pretty darn hard to "slap on" (paraphrasing Mikey L). This is why I don't see BlackBerry disappearing anytime soon. Many of those folks (governments & large corporations) will wait for BB10.