Security tool bod's hell: People think I wrote code for Hacking Team!

Now he wishes there was an anti-snoop clause in the GPL


A respected security researcher has denied any involvement with Hacking Team after open-source code he wrote was found in smartphone spyware sold by the surveillance-ware maker.

Collin Mulliner works in SecLab at Northeastern University in Massachusetts, US, and is a regular at hacking conferences. He told The Register he's getting emails from people asking why an audio-capture tool and an SMS fuzzer he wrote for Android is being used by the Italian firm.

"I'm pretty angry and sad to see my open-source tools being used by Hacking Team to make products to spy on activists," he said in a blog post on the matter.

"Even worse is the fact that, due to the lazy way they managed their source repository, less-informed people might get the idea that I developed parts of their tools for them. Just to make this very clear: I did not write any of those tools for Hacking Team."

The issue came to light after the Hacking Team's servers were comprehensively ransacked and 400GB of emails and code were put online. Emails from within the firm show staff discussing using Mulliner's code, which was published under the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Hacking Team eventually used his tools and libraries in production, and are complying with the license, Mulliner said. The company acknowledges in its documentation that it is using his copyrighted software, includes his name and email address, and links to his website where the source code can be found.

Mulliner releases almost all of his code under the GPL, but the matter has inspired him to try and find a way of inserting a clause that means the software can't be used for surveillance. Unfortunately, he says it's a difficult job.

"It's a hard thing to do; I'm not a contract lawyer," he explained. "A lot of people say it would be very hard to do, but some people with a better background in the area are thinking about what it could look like."

If any El Reg readers have sensible suggestions they'd be advised to let Mulliner know. He's also presenting at next month's Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, where the Hacking Team's exploits are bound to be discussed in sessions. ®

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