Mozilla accuses Gamma of dressing up dictators' spyware as Firefox

Maker of spooks' fave FinSpy served cease-and-desist


Firefox-maker Mozilla claims spook supplier Gamma International disguises its spyware as the popular web browser - and wants it to stop.

The non-profit software foundation slapped a cease-and-desist demand on UK-based FinFisher developer Gamma. In the legal letter, Mozilla said its Firefox trademark is being violated and that this infringement must end immediately.

Alex Fowler, the Firefox maker's director of privacy and policy, added that Mozilla takes abuse of its Firefox trademark seriously because it hurts users, creates confusion and jeopardises Mozilla’s reputation.

At the centre of the allegations is Gamma’s FinSpy program [PDF], which is deployed by cops and G-men to infiltrate a suspect's PC and allow it to be controlled from a remote server. It is claimed FinSpy masquerades as a harmless copy of the Firefox web browser so that victims who find it installed see no need to remove it.

Mozilla fired off its legal demand following the publication of a Citizen Lab report titled For Their Eyes Only: The Commercialization of Digital Spying (PDF) . See page 108 of the report for a side-by-side comparison of a legitimate install of the Mozilla browser and what the paper's authors say is a copy of FinSpy to be downloaded by the unsuspecting snoopee.

Citizen Lab is based at the Munk School of Global Affairs, at the University of Toronto, Canada, and warned of a FinFisher stealth update in March.

The surveillance software is sold by Gamma as a tool for criminal and intelligence agencies to hoover up emails, chatroom banter, Skype calls and other internet phone conversations, and to harvest a PC's hard drive for material.

'Gamma’s customers violate citizens’ human rights and online privacy'

FinSpy is part of Gamma's FinFisher suite, which El Reg was told earlier this year had been updated to evade detection and had been discovered in 25 countries.

“We cannot abide a software company using our name to disguise online surveillance tools that can be – and in several cases actually have been – used by Gamma’s customers to violate citizens’ human rights and online privacy,” Fowler said.

He stressed FinSpy does not affect Firefox. “Gamma’s software is entirely separate, and only uses our brand and trademarks to lie and mislead as one of its methods for avoiding detection and deletion,” Fowler claimed.

Gamma’s sales literature touts FinSpy as a tool for intelligence and law enforcement work - but Citizen Lab reckons citizens who are critical of the government in Bahrain and supporters of opposition candidates in Malaysia’s elections on 5 May have received emails that attempt to trick them into installing FinSpy on their Windows PCs.

Citizen Lab's writers claimed victims are unaware of what they are downloading because it comes packaged as "Firefox.exe" and sports labelling, version number, product name and copyright and trademark descriptions copies from a legit build of the open-source web browser.

The Register contacted Gamma for comment on the Mozilla cease-and-desist order, and requested a response to the claims made by Citizen Lab. The company did not respond to our requests at the time of writing. ®

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