Security breach exposes spy software used around the world


One of Hacking Team’s happy spy customers

A dramatic breach at an Italian surveillance company has laid bare the details of government cyberattacks worldwide, putting intelligence chiefs in the hot seat from Cyprus to South Korea. The massive leak has already led to one spymaster’s resignation and pulled back the curtain on espionage in the iPhone age.

More than 1 million emails released online in the wake of the July 5 breach show that the Milan-based company Hacking Team sold its spy software to the FBI and to Russian intelligence. It also worked with authoritarian governments in the Middle East and pitched to police departments in the American suburbs. It even tried to sell to the Vatican — all while devising a malicious Bible app to infect religiously minded targets

Hacking Team’s spyware was used by a total of 97 intelligence or investigative agencies in 35 countries, according to South Korean National Intelligence Service chief Lee Byoung Ho, who briefed lawmakers Tuesday after it became clear his organization used the technology…

Bills from Hacking Team to Sudan’s intelligence service and a Russian arms conglomerate have critics — including a European parliamentarian — asking whether the company flouted international sanctions. A client list that includes Uzbekistan, Egypt and Azerbaijan has reinforced worries from groups such as Privacy International that the spyware is being used to silence dissidents. And ‘we-love-your-stuff’ emails from sheriffs, police and prosecutors across the United States suggest local law enforcement is eager to give the program a test drive.

Hacking Team’s spyware is called Remote Control System and is delivered to targets through a mix of malicious links, poisoned documents and pornography, the emails show. Booby-trapped programs could be tailored to targets of any persuasion. Some messages appear to show Hacking Team working on apps named “Quran” and “DailyBible.”

Once secretly installed, the spyware acts as a track-anything surveillance tool…

Mexico is a particularly aggressive user of the technology, according to a leaked client list. In Ecuador, evidence that Hacking Team’s spyware was used by the country’s SENAIN spy agency has caused an uproar.

Senior police and intelligence figures have been quizzed about Hacking Team by lawmakers in Italy and the Czech Republic. Revelations that the Cyprus Intelligence Service has been secretly using the spyware prompted the resignation of the agency’s boss, Andreas Pentaras, over the weekend.

What you will see and hear from our “fair and balanced” TV talking heads is more of the fear and trembling about foreign powers hacking our government, corporate barons and maybe your grocery list. You will not be reminded of everyone from our federal government – down through governors and state police – to your friendly neighborhood sheriff snooping through your email and cellphone calls.

That would be way too courageous.

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