According to the Washingtonpost report the Ethiopian Gov’t is spying on journalists using spyware software. Mesay Mekonnen was at his desk, at a news service based in Northern Virginia, when gibberish suddenly exploded across his computer screen one day in December. A sophisticated cyberattack was underway.
But this wasn’t the Chinese army or the Russia mafia at work.
Instead, a nonprofit research lab has fingered government hackers in a much less technically advanced nation, Ethiopia, as the likely culprits, saying they apparently bought commercial spyware, essentially off the shelf. This burgeoning industry is making surveillance capabilities that once were the exclusive province of the most elite spy agencies, such as National Security Agency, widely available to governments worldwide.
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The targets of such attacks often are political activists, human rights workers and journalists, who have learned the Internet allows authoritarian governments to surveil and intimidate them even after they have fled to supposedly safe havens.
That includes the United States, where laws prohibit unauthorized hacking but rarely succeed in stopping intrusions. The trade in spyware itself is almost entirely unregulated, to the great frustration of critics.
“We’re finding this in repressive countries, and we’re finding that it’s being abused,” said Bill Marczak, a research fellow for Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, which released the report Wednesday. “This spyware has proliferated around the world . . . without any debate.”
Citizen Lab says the spyware used against Mekonnen and one other Ethiopian journalist appears to be made by Hacking Team, an Italian company with a regional sales office in Annapolis. Its products are capable of stealing documents from hard drives, snooping on video chats, reading e-mails, snatching contact lists, and remotely flipping on cameras and microphones so that they can quietly spy on a computer’s unwitting user.
Some of the targets of recent cyberattacks are U.S. citizens, say officials at Ethiopian Satellite Television office in Alexandria, where Mekonnen works. Others have lived in the United States or other Western countries for years.
“To invade the privacy of American citizens and legal residents, violating the sovereignty of the United States and European countries, is mind-boggling,” said Neamin Zeleke, managing director for the news service, which beams reports to Ethiopia, providing a rare alternative to official information sources there.
Citizen Lab researchers say they have found evidence of Hacking Team software, which the company says it sells only to governments, being used in a dozen countries, including Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan.
The Ethiopian government, commenting through a spokesman at the embassy in Washington, denied using spyware. “The Ethiopian government did not use and has no reason at all to use any spyware or other products provided by Hacking Team or any other vendor inside or outside of Ethiopia,” said Wahide Baley, head of public policy and communications, in a statement e-mailed to The Washington Post.
Hacking Team declined to comment on whether Ethiopia was a customer, saying it never publicly confirms or denies whether a country is a client because that information could jeopardize legitimate investigations. The company also said it does not sell its products to countries that have been blacklisted by the United States, the United Nations and some other international groups… Read More on WashingtonPost.com
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