A powerful hacking company that sells malware and infectious spying software exclusively to governments has itself been hacked. It’s been revealed that the client list includes some of the most repressive regimes in the world, along with several US government agencies.
Hacking Team is based in Milan, Italy and specializes in software that “…allows users to take remote control of suspects’ computers, recording their calls, emails, keystrokes and even activating their cameras.”
Of course the company advertises this as a tool for “fighting crime” when in reality it is used to spy on anyone the client government considers a dissident. Hacking Team is one of five companies designated as “Corporate Enemies of the Internet” in a 2013 report from Reporters Without Borders, describing them as “digital era mercenaries.”
“Their products have been or are being used to commit violations of human rights and freedom of information. If these companies decided to sell to authoritarian regimes, they must have known that their products could be used to spy on journalists, dissidents and netizens.”
While Hacking Team claims to do business with only respectable countries, the leaked documents show that, in fact, any government is fair game. Their customers include Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan.
Ethiopia, who is known to surveil and censor its journalists and dissidents was billed $1 million by Hacking Team for its Remote Control System (RCS), featured in the company’s advertisement here.
Also on their client list is Sudan, one of the most strictly embargoed countries in the world due to human rights violations. The documents reveal Hacking Team executives defending its sales to Sudan from a UN inquiry, stating that their spying tools don’t’ count as a weapon and don’t fall under the UN embargo.
Most troubling to US readers is the fact that these powerful hacking spyware tools are being sold to agencies such as the DEA, FBI, and Department of Defense. The FBI has been using the RCS since 2011, the first confirmation of a relationship with Hacking Team.
In 2011 the DEA was denied a budget request to use RCL domestically because it was “too controversial,” but it was approved for use in Colombia and will be expanded to other countries.
Hacking Team is also peddling its wares to the New York Police Department and several other state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as local district attorney offices.
In recent months we have seen increased scrutiny on the government’s use of hacking software. Chuck Grassley of the Senate Judiciary Committee is at least paying lip service to privacy concerns, requesting the FBI to provide “more specific information about the FBI’s current use of spyware.”
Attorney General Eric Holder and fellow authorities threw a temper tantrum after Apple and Google said last year that its devices would have default encryption, prompting Holder to call for a law that allows government a “backdoor” through encryption.
The Hacker Team documents confirm that the US government is intent on knowing our every online move, sweeping away privacy, in the name of “law enforcement.” If they can’t get a law creating backdoors through encryption, then they will defeat encryption using nefarious companies like Hacker Team.
As the surveillance state entrenches itself in the American landscape, we are incredibly in debt to the good guys of the hacking world and brave whistleblowers.