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31 May 2016

Nicole Perlroth, The New York Times

Case of U.A.E. buying commercial spyware to crackdown on activists reflects broader trend - New York Times

"Governments Turn to Commercial Spyware to Intimidate Dissidents", 29 May 2016

In the last five years, Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates, has been jailed and fired from his job, along with having his passport confiscated, his car stolen, his email hacked, his location tracked and his bank account robbed of $140,000. He has also been beaten, twice, in the same week...

It used to be that only a handful of countries had access to sophisticated hacking and spying tools. But these days, nearly all kinds of countries...are buying commercial spyware or hiring and training programmers to develop their own hacking and surveillance tools...Dozens of companies, ranging from NSO Group and Cellebrite in Israel to Finfisher [part of Gamma Group] in Germany and Hacking Team in Italy, sell digital spy tools to governments. A number of companies in the United States are training foreign law enforcement and intelligence officials to code their own surveillance tools. In many cases these tools are able to circumvent security measures like encryption. Some countries are using them to watch dissidents. Others are using them to aggressively silence and punish their critics, inside and outside their borders...

Mr. Marczak was able to trace the spyware [used against Mansoor] back to the Royal Group, a conglomerate...Representatives from the Emirates Embassy in Washington...did not return requests for further comment. Invoices from Hacking Team showed that through 2015, the Emirates were Hacking Team's second-biggest customers, behind only Morocco...a spokesman for Hacking Team said his company no longer had contracts with the Emirates. But that is in large part because Hacking Team's global license was revoked this year by the Italian Ministry of Economic Development.