Government Goons Impersonate Journalists to Trick Activists into Downloading Spyware

The folks over at the righteous defenders of journalists everywhere, the Committee to Protect Journalists, report on a case where Bahraini intelligence agents used a commercial surveillance program to spy on anti-government activists. As CPJ reports:

This week, Morgan Marquis-Boire and Bill Marczak of the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab provided a disturbing look into the likely use of a commercial surveillance program, FinFisher, to remotely invade and control the computers of Bahraini activists. After the software installs itself onto unsuspecting users' computer, it can record and relay emails, screenshots, and Skype audio conversations. It was deployed against Bahraini users after being concealed in seemingly innocent emails.

In one example decoded by Marquis-Bore's team, the message was crafted to appear to be from Melissa Chan, a journalist working for Al-Jazeera English. The attackers were using Chan's reputation as a journalist to trick their victims into opening the document...

Citizen Lab's analysis demonstrates that spyware supposedly made for law enforcement purposes by the UK company Gamma International is now being used in ways that no democratic society can tolerate. Gamma should immediately reveal whether they have been selling this technology to the Bahraini authorities and what it intends to do to prevent abuses from recurring.

Gamma International denies that it ever sold it to Bahrain. That may be so, but Egyptian activists who ransacked the Egyptian security headquarters claimed to recovered documents showing that the company had sold the spyware to the police in that country before Murbarak was overthrown.

I believe that selling tyrants the rope with which they will hang you (and others) is not a viable strategy for long-term profitability.

Disclosure: I make annual contributions to CPJ in honor of my former Forbes magazine colleague Paul Klebnikov who was gunned down in a Moscow street in 2004. His murderers have never been caught.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • sloopyinca||

    His murderers have never been caught brought to justice.


  • Mr. Soul||

    this looks like a job for an Oathkeepers type outfit. If (we) technologists simply refuse to do this kind of thing, the tyrants will not prevail.

  • Walsh||

    Forget about it, Ron. It's Bahrain.

  • ||

    If the Bahrainian government thought of this, what's to say the NSA hasn't?

  • Pro Libertate||

    I'm crushing your head.

  • Bee Tagger||

    Nobody home!

  • ||

    I'm squeezing your face!

  • ||

    Oh shit, wait, was it "pinching your face"?

  • ||

    Why are people still stupid enough to open email attachments from people they don't know?

  • R C Dean||

    Given the restrictions that our political press has swallowed on their reporting re: the White House and the Obama campaign, I doubt they would even have to be tricked. The Obama machine could probably just pass out the damn spyware at the next presser, and give them all a minute to load onto their computers before continuing on.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    With its bloated webpages, I always assume Reason is tricking me to download some surveillance software on my computer every time I make a comment.

    Dammit, there goes my Discover Card number.

  • ||

    Of course you have a Discover Card. I should have guessed.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I have the Monolith Card. Don't evolve without it.

  • ||

    I have two rewards cards, and I make money off of them, cause I'm not a retard.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Oh, yeah? Well my card is. . .my God, it's full of stars!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I use my Discover Card to punish businesses I don't like.

  • Pro Libertate||

    With the Monolith Card, I can evolve into the future, taking advantage of inflation up to a 10% discount with every purchase. It's also very sleek and perfectly proportioned 1:4:9.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Be careful. I just learned to crush skulls with a femur.

  • Pro Libertate||

    They also have a great commercial, with classical music of some sort and Star Child aka David Bowman. You know, from the failed Saturn probe a while back.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Five bucks says Big Sis Napolitano is on a flight to Baharain right this minute.


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.