UK malware used against Bahraini activists

On September 6, 2012 by stratagem

Source: Deutsche Welle

Husain Abdulla, a naturalized US citizen and director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), received an e-mail in May from a Bahraini opposition leader with an attachment entitled “Existence of a new dialogue.” Luckily for him, it wouldn’t open on his BlackBerry.

“I couldn’t open the attachment, but took it to one of the people investigating malware,” he told DW. “They said it if you open it, it’s going to be able to spy on any kind of activity you do on your computer or laptop.”

Abdulla said he is aware of at least seven people who received the same e-mail – “but I know it’s more than that.” The malware investigators were researchers at the University of Toronto Munk School of Global Affairs’ Citizen Lab, who traced the e-mail to an IP address controlled by the Bahraini government, who, they suspect, intercepted the e-mail and added the attachment.

The Citizen Lab last week released a report on spyware being used against political opposition members and pro-democracy activists around the world, which linked the viruses to UK based company Gamma Group.

The ‘IT intrusion field’

“Gamma addresses ongoing developments in the IT intrusion field with solutions to enhance the capabilities of our clients,” announces the FinFisher website, presenting its range of spyware products as the cutting edge of law enforcement.

The software, named FinSpy, functions like a computer virus, and can be used to secretly monitor computers, grab images from computer screens, intercept and record Skype calls, turn on web cameras and microphones, and record keystrokes. It can do all this while avoiding any antivirus software the target computer may have installed.

There is also a mobile version, which effectively turns cell phones into tracking devices. It is capable of hacking into a variety of operating systems, including Microsoft Windows Mobile, Apple iPhone’s iOS, as well as Android systems.

“When FinSpy Mobile is installed on a mobile phone it can be remotely controlled and monitored no matter where in the world the Target is located,” promised a FinSpy brochure recently published by WikiLeaks.

Dual use

The Citizen Lab researchers trawled the Internet using malware samples to find out who is using Gamma’s cyber arsenal. They ended up linking FinSpy to servers in over a dozen countries, including Bahrain, Brunei and Turkmenistan, the latter once described by Human Rights Watch as one of the “world’s most repressive countries.”

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Big Brother Inc.

But human rights organizations are skeptical. Eric King, head of research at UK organization Privacy International, where he runs the Big Brother Incorporated project, said he doesn’t believe Gamma’s malware was stolen.

“Gamma Group is one of the scariest surveillance companies that exists,” he told DW. “They have no internal guidelines on who and where they sell their equipment to, beyond laws that are currently in place. Which sounds like a reasonable defense, apart from the fact that there are none. There are no laws at all that govern the export or sale of surveillance technology anywhere in the world.

“The first time that their product was discovered in Egypt, Gamma insisted that it was simply a trial, and the second time, over in Bahrain, they said all of a sudden that their technology had been stolen,” King said. “It’s getting more and more farcical.”

Read More: Deutsche Welle

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