The use of technologies to support censorship is deplorable and condemnable but it must be considered that is a sad reality that has sustained the growth of a billionaire market. Many IT companies around the world are specialized in the providing of solutions used by authoritarian regimes to monitor internet use and persecute the opponents.
On March 12th, the World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, Reporters Without Borders released an interesting report titled “Era of the digital mercenaries” that denounce the increased surveillance practice committed by governments.
Government authorities increasingly using technology to intercept communication and monitor online activities of journalists, citizen-journalists, and dissidents … a serious menace to human rights and liberty of expression. The report estimates that many people today are arrested and tortured for providing news and information online, the countries considered “Enemies of the Internet” are Syria, China, Iran, Bahrain, and Vietnam.
“Online surveillance is a growing danger for journalists, bloggers, citizen-journalists and human rights defenders. The Spyfiles that WikiLeaks released in 2012 showed the extent of the surveillance market, its worth (more than 5 billion dollars) and the sophistication of its products.” report states.
China has the most advanced censorship system, known as Great Firewall or Great Wall, but also Iran and Syria have acquired/implemented monitoring systems. Both nations addition to the availability of surveillance architecture, in many cases they have also used malware to track hacktivists and dissidents.
In this states the governments systematic apply online surveillance that results in serious human rights violations, the actions of authorities is invasive due to the frequent use of malicious code and cyber attacks against a restricted circle of individuals opposed to the regimes.
Who armed the hand of the executioner?
Reporters at Without Borders hasn’t compiled only a list of states considered likely to censorship but also public denounced five “Corporate Enemies of the Internet,”. The list include five private businesses that sell products used by authoritarian governments to commit violations of human rights and freedom of information.
The companies are Gamma, Trovicor, Hacking Team, Amesys and Blue Coat, the report uses words of condemnation for these businesses that it defines as “digital era mercenaries”.
The companies are accused to essentially provide two types of corporate products for monitoring and espionage, architectures for large-scale monitoring of Internet and spyware and other kinds of tools for targeted and invasive surveillance.
Sophisticated malware designed and commercialized by Hacking Team and Gamma have been used by governments to spy on journalists and netizens, the malicious code is able to infect multi-platforms (e.g. desktop, mobile) and OSs, gathering remote control of victims machine and stealing documents and user’s credentials.
Products such as FinSpy(Gamma) and DaVinci Code (Hacking Team) are infamous in the worldwide security community, Mikko Hypponen Chief Research Officer of F-Secure is one of the most popular voice that denounced the abused use of these applications.
Again, Trovicor’s surveillance products have been deployed by Bahrain’s royal family to spy on bloggers and journalists and arrest them, a quite similar situation is in Syria, Government of Damascus deployed a DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) produced by Blue Coat.
Amesys company provided Eagle products that were found in the offices of Muammar Gaddafi’s secret police.
The report commented the event with following statemens:
“Their products have been or are being used to commit violations of human rights and freedom of information. If these companies decided to sell to authoritarian regimes, they must have known that their products could be used to spy on journalists, dissidents and netizens. If their digital surveillance products were sold to an authoritarian regime by an intermediary without their knowledge, their failure to keep track of the exports of their own software means they did not care if their technology was misused and did not care about the vulnerability of those who defend human rights.”
Reporters Without Borders calls for the introduction of controls on the commercialization of surveillance software and architectures to governments that persecute dissidents violating fundamental rights, it’s necessary a prompt action of Legislators.
“The European Union and the United States have already banned the export of surveillance technology to Iran and Syria. This praiseworthy initiative should not be an isolated one. European governments need to take a harmonized approach to controlling the export of surveillance technology. “
Despite many organization are denouncing an intolerable situation under the eyes of all, many democratic countries also increased monitoring and surveillance activities in the name of homeland security, let’s remind for example debated bills such as the US FISAA and CISPA and the Communications Data Bill in Britain.
Reporters Without Borders also propose a “digital survival kit” to offers practical tools, advice and techniques to censorship and monitoring activities
Let’s close the post with appropriate warning proposed in the report:
“This is a battle without bombs, prison bars or blank inserts in newspapers, but if care is not taken, the enemies of the truth may sweep the board.”
(Security Affairs – Censorship)