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AFP used 'cyberweapons' supplied by company supporting 'human rights abusing' countries

By Murray Hunter - posted Tuesday, 14 July 2015

A few days ago a cache of over 400GB of documents, files, and source code purportedly from Milan based company Hacking Team was dumped on the internet.

Hacking Team sells intrusion and surveillance tools to governments and law enforcement agencies. However Reporters without Borders back in 2013 warned that the company sold its products to authoritarian regimes who violated human rights and freedom of information. Evidence from a CitizenLab, based at the University of Toronto, found that these products were also used to spy on journalists based in Washington DC, dissidents, and netizens.

The company's own promotional material proudly espouses its abilities, "Hack into your target with the most advanced infection vectors available. Enter his wireless network and tackle tactical operations with ad-hoc equipment designed to operate while on the move....Remote Control System: the hacking suite for governmental interception. Right at your fingertips."


On Monday 13th July the founder of Hacking Team David Vincenzetti admitted that the company had supplied offensive tools to Libya, Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Hacking Team has sold its offensive products to Sudan even though the United Nations has placed an embargo on the country. Vincenzetti further admitted that the firm's software had been used to spy on journalists and dissidents.

On Sunday 5th July company documents posted on the internet showed that the Australian Federal Police had been a customer and user of Hacking Team software and services.

The software that the Australian Federal Police allegedly operated used an attack vector into a target computer, via Adobe software to gain access, and could read encrypted emails, skype calls, and documents, or deliver malicious software or viruses. The software 'DaVinci' is a remote control system which can also turn on microphones and cameras within targeted computers and mobile phones.

This quickly evolving scandal has already claim the scalp of the head of Cyprus Intelligence Services (KYP), Andreas Pentaras, who resigned two days ago for using Hacking Team surveillance software to spy on persons of interest outside the law. More can be expected to follow in the coming weeks.

The Hacking Team revelations put the spotlight on the dark world of state surveillance on its own citizens. We must be concerned about Edward Snowden's revelations of widespread government surveillance on its own citizens.

Therefore some questions must be asked of the Australian Federal Police, due to the sources and abilities of the tools they have been using in Australia.

  1. Why does the AFP need offensive software or cyberweapons?
  2. Who were they used against, and why?
  3. Why did the Australian Government deal with companies that had little or no concern about human rights?
  4. Why did the AFP terminate the contract with Hacking Team when this information was about to become public knowledge?

These questions must be asked to maintain Australian's right to privacy. The moral line between privacy and law enforcement has been compromised by the information leaked on 5th July.

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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis. He blogs at Murray Hunter.

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