There’s A Cyber Surveillance Arms Race Raging In The Third World

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Steve Ambrose Contributor
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Let the race for cyber supremacy begin — in Mongolia.

Citizen Lab, a Toronto-based technology and human rights research facility, released a report Oct. 15 that detailed the use of a set of spyware tools sold exclusively to governments—a number of which are developing nations.

Citizen Lab found “32 countries where at least one government entity is likely using the spyware” tools from FinFisher, a German corporation, whose clients are primarily law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Ethiopia, Turkmenistan, Kazakstan, Indonesia, and Kenya were all listed in the report as nations having received the spyware tools.


Citizen Lab, on a limited scale, was also able to identify the exact government agency that utilized the software and also included a warning in the report: “[A] number of countries have dubious or problematic histories of oversight of the security services.”

Bangladesh’s Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), Egypt’s Technology Research Department (TRD), Serbia’s Security Information Agency (BIA), and Mongolia’s Special State Security Department (SSSD) were all suspected of using the spyware tools.


Citizen Lab states in the report that the motive for releasing the findings is only to further the public interest. “[W]e do not wish to disrupt or interfere with legitimately sanctioned investigations or other activities. Instead, we hope to ensure that citizens have the opportunity to hold their governments transparent and accountable,” it stated.

While FinFisher has been used against nefarious and criminal elements, it has also allegedly been abused, according to Toronto news channel CP24. The tools have been used to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, and lawyers.

CP24 reported that the products work by infecting a “targets’ computers and phones, copying messages, recording conversations and even activating webcams.”

Once the malicious program has infected the target computer system, FinFisher is then able to extract information or control the computer. FinFisher allows the government agent using the program to extract passwords and files, monitor their offline and online activities, and track suspects.

As noted by CP24, the price tag for these spying tools could reach $3.5 million.

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