Gov'ts Using Cellphone Spyware, Warns WikiLeaks

Dennis Faas's picture

The controversial Wikileaks site has published documents that appear to show national governments using malicious software to carry out surveillance. The documents flesh out claims by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that private companies are profiting by selling the software to governments.

Wikileaks has published a total of 287 files used by 160 commercial firms. It says this is only part of a larger collection that will be published, going forward.

The most worrying aspect of the products detailed is that they are intentionally designed to bypass the type of security software available to ordinary citizens. In some cases, they are even set up to get onto computers and avoid detection in the same way as the malicious software ("malware" / spyware) used by criminal hackers. (Source:

Post 9/11 Era Sees Surveillance Expansion

The Wall Street Journal says the market for government surveillance products exploded after September 11, 2001 ("9/11").

According to the WSJ, many of those designing this software claim it's intended only for surveillance of suspected criminals and terrorists. However, many experts say the products may be used by governments to monitor and oppress political opponents, dissidents, and potential terrorists.

One of the most revealing documents in the files is a page from a training manual produced by a French firm for its security products.

The training manual page includes a screenshot of the software in action, with the example including actual email addresses and user names of political opposition groups in Libya. Visible on the list is one man who is now a minister in the country's post-Ghadafi government.

Software Makers Claim "Not Responsible"

The firm concerned, Amesys, says it simply produces the software and is not responsible for how governments may use it. The company says it doesn't have any access to the Libyan information produced by the software, a claim that appears to be contradicted by the leaked document. (Source:

Another leaked document includes marketing material from German firm DigiTask, which explains that the company's software can be surreptitiously installed on target computers by exploiting unpatched security flaws and bogus email links, tactics that involve taking advantage of human weaknesses. (Source:

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