Researchers Expose Government Hacking Tools

Josh Evans Contributor
Font Size:

Two different teams of researchers have discovered new components of digital surveillance software used by governments around the world to obtain data from mobile phones.

The new modules, discovered by both Kaspersky Lab in Russia and Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, target Android, iOS, Windows Mobile and Blackberry phones, although they are part of a larger suite of tools known as Remote Control System for spying on computers, Wired reports.

The surveillance software gives complete control over the infected phone, giving governments complete access to texts, emails, call records and other data, as well as providing the ability to activate the camera and microphone to record the phone’s surroundings.

Hacking Team, the Italian firm that creates and sells the software, has also included considerable measures to ensure that the system remains undetected. For example, before being installed on a device, the program can identify any programs on the device that might detect it. The software is also capable of wiping itself from a device if it is at risk of being noticed.

The surveillance system can be installed if a law enforcement officer is able to get physical access to the phone, but it can also be implanted if the owner connects the device to a computer that is already infected.

Although Hacking Team claims that it does not sell its software to repressive governments that are likely to use the technology to spy on political dissidents, Citizen Lab discovered one of the modules disguised as a news app marketed toward the Qatif region of Saudi Arabia. Qatif is home to many Shia Muslims how have heavily protested the Sunni government.

Although Citizen Lab could not confirm that the program was being used by the government of Saudi Arabia to spy on protestors, it noted that the easy availability of this technology makes such abuses more likely.

“By dramatically lowering the entry cost on invasive and hard-to-trace monitoring, it lowers the cost of targeting political threats,” it said in a report.

Follow Josh on Twitter

Tags : privacy
Josh Evans