Earlier this week on the social news and media aggregation website Reddit, the user “PhineasFisher” revealed that he had hacked into the central servers of the spying software company FinFisher, and discovered they had been assisting oppressive Middle Eastern regimes in Egypt and Bahrain to spy on journalists and activists since the first Arab Spring.
Phineas released his 40GB cache of plundered files to the open Internet, which revealed that the company had installed their spyware on close to 80 machines within both countries, including those belonging to several prominent human rights lawyers, as well as leaders of the opposition forces who have been jailed since 2010.
The software, which gives the spyer complete and total control of the spyee’s computer, all their files on the machine, as well as the ability to report back on any notable changes which could potentially hint that the target in question might be on the move or connecting to different Internet providers within a concentrated period of time in an effort to skirt detection by the authorities.
FinFisher operates in the open as a “security contractor”, which is supposed to provide its dozen or so government and private clients with software that theoretically helps to protect their networks from outside threats, along with surveillance capabilities that allow their customers to keep a close eye on internal operations and their own employees.
Of course, off the books their FinFisher software was much more advanced and devious than what they put on paper, allowing anyone who paid the pocket-punching upfront cost, as well as the monthly subscription fee to infect the computers of whomever they please that might pose a threat to a regime, its dictator, or even the generals who ordered the program in the first place.
FinFisher has yet to respond to the leak or the allegations of the contents contained within, specifically an email chain with Bahraini officials (dated 2011) which clearly shows the company was working closely with top brass within the country who were concerned that something similar to the Arab Spring could erupt within their region if they couldn’t get a cap on the powder keg before it inevitably went off.
From The Intercept:
“[W]e have 30 target licenses, we are now using them all in which we have already 30 targets,” says one message, dated November 2. On December 8th, the Bahrainis asked for an update on a previous issue: “Please investigate urgently and let us know the solution. As we are in a big lose of data now.”
The Bahrainian government has categorically denied any wrongdoing in the matter, removing themselves from the situation entirely and claiming that they’re not breaking any laws that “the United States and its NSA haven’t already broken ten times over”.
Despite how right they may be, it’s still disturbing to see private companies from Europe assisting known oppressors on the hunt for total power over their people. While no one can rightfully come out in front of the matter and wag a finger at the other given the current status of international spying scandals, its the specific, targeted nature of this spyware and its victims that makes the whole ordeal especially creepy, and altogether concerning for people who are looking forward to a freer Internet, instead of back at the one we’ve constricted until now.