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UK Spyware in Bahrain: Company's Denials Called Into Question

[Malware Hazard. Image from PBCrichton/Open Clip Art Library] [Malware Hazard. Image from PBCrichton/Open Clip Art Library]

[The following press release was issued by Bahrain Watch on 6 February 2013.]

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: bill@bahrainwatch.org

Twitter: @bhwatch

February 6, 2013

UK SPYWARE IN BAHRAIN: COMPANY’S DENIALS CALLED INTO QUESTION

: New Evidence Suggests Gamma Sold FinSpy to Bahrain


[Manama] In July 2012, Bahrain Watch reported that the Government of Bahrain was targeting activists with the FinSpy/FinFisher “lawful interception” computer spyware, programmed by UK company Gamma International. An analysis revealed that the spyware steals passwords and can record screen shots, Skype calls, and audio from a computer’s microphone. The spyware sends the data it captures back to a server in Bahrain. The Bahrain Watch report cited a technical analysis by Morgan Marquis-Boire and Bahrain Watch member Bill Marczak published through CitizenLab, and a report by Bloomberg. In response to these reports, Gamma International issued several statements to the press claiming that:

(1) The version of FinSpy used in Bahrain is an old copy that might have been stolen via a flash drive during a product demonstration. [1, 2]

(2) The server in Bahrain is not a FinFisher product, but is a “proxy” that relays the captured data to another server. [3]

(3) The version of FinSpy used in Bahrain has been modified so that it does not communicate with Gamma.  If the product did communicate with Gamma, then Gamma could disable it. [4]

(4) Gamma never sold FinSpy to Bahrain. [5]

New evidence, presented in a complaint to the OECD, calls these claims into question:

(1) The version of FinSpy used in Bahrain is an old copy that might have been stolen via a flash drive during a product demonstration.

The copy of FinSpy sent to Bahraini Activists identifies itself as FinSpy 4.01, and bears a March 2012 date. However, Bahrain Watch has obtained a sample of a different version of FinSpy used in Bahrain, which predates the campaign against Bahraini activists. The other version of the spyware identifies itself as FinSpy 4.00, and has an older date. Both the FinSpy 4.01 and FinSpy 4.00 samples communicate with the same server in Bahrain. The use of two different FinSpy versions calls into question Gamma’s claim that Bahrain is using a stolen copy of FinSpy, and instead suggests that Bahrain is receiving updated spyware from Gamma.

(2) The server in Bahrain is not a FinFisher product, but is a “proxy” that relays the captured data to another server.

The server sent responses including the phrase “finspy_master” — Gamma documentation refers to the server component of a FinSpy installation as the Master. Bahrain Watch believes that Bahrain’s server is not a proxy, based both on what appeared to be a bug in the server that revealed to each single recipient the sum total number of messages sent by the server to all recipients. Analysis of this total over time showed that the server was not forwarding messages to a third party. The technical term for this bug is a “Global IP ID.”  The bug was corrected around July 2012.

(3) The version of FinSpy used in Bahrain has been modified so that it does not communicate with Gamma. If the product did communicate with Gamma, then Gamma could disable it.

Over the past several months, Bahrain Watch sent scanning probes to a number of FinSpy servers, including servers identified in Turkmenistan, Ethiopia, and Bahrain. Bahrain Watch observed behavior changes that were consistent across all servers. For example, around October 2012, an update to the servers broke a technique used by Bahrain Watch and CitizenLab to scan for FinSpy servers. That scanning technique identified FinSpy servers by detecting a bug in the FinSpy protocol. That this particular bug was corrected on all servers at roughly the same time suggests that the product in Bahrain does indeed communicate with Gamma in order to receive updates.

(4) Gamma never sold FinSpy to Bahrain.

According to leaked Gamma documentation, a FinSpy server requires a current update license purchased from Gamma in order to receive updates. Once the update license is expired, the server can no longer receive updates. The continued behavior changes on Bahrain’s server indicate a current update license, which suggests an ongoing business relationship between Gamma and Bahrain.

Bahrain Watch founding member Bill Marczak said: “It looks like Gamma is providing updates to Bahrain’s FinSpy installation. This calls into question Gamma’s claim that Bahrain stole a demonstration version of FinSpy. Given this new evidence, we call on Gamma to cease providing any software, hardware, or training — whether directly or indirectly — to the Government of Bahrain, and to disable Bahrain’s FinSpy installation. Software like FinSpy needs to be export controlled on the basis of its surveillance capabilities, and companies should face penalties if they sell their products to and end user that they should reasonably know will use their product in service of human rights violations.”

Bahrain Watch is a monitoring and advocacy group that seeks to promote effective, accountable, and transparent governance in Bahrain through research and evidence-based activism.  
About Bahrain Watch: http://bahrainwatch.org/about.html

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