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Spyware-for-cops Hacking Team faces off against privacy critics

Defends 'lawful intercept and surveillance' tech

Controversial spyware-for-cops outfit Hacking Team has defended its snooping and come out on the offensive against security research critics.

Last week Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept published what it asserted were secret manuals illustrating how Hacking Team sold its spyware sold to authoritarian regimes around the world.

The accusations aren’t new but simply fleshed out allegations about the Italian security firm that had already been laid out by an investigation by Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and Kaspersky Lab back in June.

Hacking Team’s “lawful intercept and surveillance software” is hated by privacy advocates, who characterise it as mobile malware for despots and cops worldwide. They allege sales are made to authoritarian regimes with questionable human rights records including those in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Kazakhstan, among others.

In a rebuttal, sent in a mailing list to Hacking Team clients and The Intercept, Hacking Team dismisses these allegation as “conjecture”. David Vincenzetti, Hacking Team's chief exec, goes on to dismiss the manuals published by The Intercept as out of date.

Despite the headline, the “secret manuals” do not show that anything at all was “sold to despots” worldwide or elsewhere. That remains the conjecture of the authors. As most readers of this list know, Hacking Team voluntarily goes farther than any company in our industry to assure that our tools, powerful as they are, are not misused.

Instead of a balanced look at a complex subject, this article is the familiar perspective of activists such as Morgan Marquis-Boire, one of its authors. The writers seem astonishingly unconcerned about or naively unaware of the criminal and terrorist uses of secret communications over mobile devices and the Web. In this case, they go so far as to begin by mocking the concerns of even the most respected law enforcement organizations (See FBI, Comey, Oct. 16, 2014). The manuals published by The Intercept appear to be stolen documents and are clearly out of date.

Hacking Team’s customer policy claims the firm avoids selling its technology to governments or countries blacklisted by the US, EU among other organisations. It claims to review all its deals so that its technology does not facilitate human rights violations.

Researchers have hit back at Vincinzetti’s broadside by claiming that what the firm dismisses as conjecture is backed up by forensic evidence and other security research. For example, they claim, Hacking Team’s technology was implicated in snooping against an Emeriti human rights activist as well as Ethiopian journalists based in Washington D.C.

Vincinzetti’s rebuttal does not address either this point or the central allegation of whether sales of electronic surveillance tech to countries with questionable human rights records had taken place. ®


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