How stuff works : The inner workings of Canada's best (and most fun) new technologies.
A BlackBerry message lives a very complicated — if short — life, filled with secret codes, homing beacons and trips around the world (Wide Web).
1. Once you type in a message and hit Send, it is automatically encoded using private key encryption. One copy of this coded key is in the device; the only other key sits on the user's e-mail server. It would take a mathematician millions of years to crack the code.
2. While the message's content is safeguarded, it also contains routing information that can be read by wireless networks tuned into the device. Periodically, a BlackBerry sends out a homing beacon to the closest wireless network tower. If the device isn't connected, it will send out a brief signal until it finds one.
3. The message gets routed through the Internet, touching one of RIM's network operating centres, as well as that of the sender's carrier (for security and efficiency purposes).
4. The message next passes through the firewall of the sender's company. It is decrypted using the other key, then sent out again, just like any other e-mail.
5. If the receiver is another BlackBerry user, the message is encrypted by a key in her company's server and simultaneously sent to her device and inbox. Sounds complicated, but messages will often pop up on the receiving BlackBerry before it hits that person's e-mail inbox.