Hackers uncover state spyware

Published on 11 October 2011 at 12:54

Has the state abused spyware illegally to investigate alleged criminals? The question has been raised in Germany, where the hacker group Chaos Computer Club (CCC) has exposed in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung the existence of an illegal “State Trojan” capable of spying on private computers, and created to meet the needs of German law enforcement officials.

The Bundestrojaner [Federal Trojan] can carry out surveillance authorised by a judge, such as intercepting conversations via Skype. But it can also act remotely on the monitored computer, download or run malicious programs, search, write and manipulate files and take control of the microphone, the camera and the keyboard to assure total surveillance. Better yet: the CCC, which reverse-engineered the software, accuses authorities of having failed to put in the most basic security measures, making information relatively easily accessible to third parties.

The discovery has been a bombshell in Germany, a society that jealously guards the protection of privacy and where the Constitutional Court has restricted the use of spyware. The governments of Bavaria and Lower Saxony have reported using the Trojan in 2009. The press is wondering if that constitutes a “mini-scandal” or “a betrayal of the Constitution.” For the Süddeutsche Zeitung, there is no doubt: this “digital double agent” is indeed “a new form of state criminality.”

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