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Press Release: UK Company Helps Bahrain Government Spy on Activists

[Image by PBCrichton via Open Clip Art Library] [Image by PBCrichton via Open Clip Art Library]

[The following press release was issued by Bahrain Watch on 25 July 2012.] 

UK COMPANY HELPS BAHRAIN GOVT SPY ON ACTIVISTS

Malicious E-Mail Attachments Sent to Activists Steal Passwords, Record Skype Calls

Bahrain’s government is spying on Bahraini activists with a malicious computer program apparently supplied by a UK firm.

Bahrain Watch founding member Bill Marczak, and Citizen Lab security researcher Morgan Marquis-Boire analyzed a string of suspicious e-mails sent to activists over the past two months.  The e-mails promised exclusive images or documents about the political situation in Bahrain.  Upon closer examination, the e-mails were found to contain attachments that installed a malicious program on a victim’s computer.  Some of these e-mails impersonated Al Jazeera English reporter Melissa Chan.

The malicious program was found to record keystrokes, take screenshots, record Skype calls, and steal passwords saved in web browsers, e-mail programs, and instant messaging programs.  The malicious program sent this data to an internet address in Bahrain.

The analysis suggests that the malicious program is “FinSpy,” a product of UK firm Gamma International.  FinSpy belongs to the FinFisher suite for “Governmental IT Intrusion and Remote Monitoring Solutions.”  Gamma International was criticized for apparently selling the same product to Mubarak’s regime in Egypt. Before technology giant Apple closed the security gap, FinSpy would infect computers by tricking users into thinking that it was an iTunes update.  London-based NGO Privacy International has threatened to take the UK government to court for failing to control the export of surveillance technology to repressive foreign regimes.

During the analysis of FinSpy, a stolen GMail password was later used in an attempt to access the GMail account, suggesting that the Bahraini government is actively monitoring and exploiting the information captured by FinSpy.

A detailed report of the technical analysis of the program can be read at:
https://citizenlab.org/2012/07/from-bahrain-with-love-finfishers-spy-kit-exposed/3/.

A non-technical report of the analysis by Bloomberg News can be read at:
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-25/cyber-attacks-on-activists-traced-to-finfisher-spyware-of-gamma.html.

Bahrain Watch would like to extend its gratitude to all of the activists, researchers, and journalists, including those at Bloomberg News, who contributed to this story.

Have I Been Infected?

The malicious e-mails analyzed were sent from the following addresses:

The malicious e-mails analyzed had the following subject lines:

  • Existence of a new dialogue - Al-Wefaq & Government authority
  • Torture reports on Nabeel Rajab
  • King Hamad planning
  • Breaking News from Bahrain – 5 Suspects Arrested

The malicious attachments display images or documents when opened.  If you have received e-mails with these subject lines or from these addresses, DO NOT OPEN THE ATTACHMENTS.  If you opened one of the attachments, your computer may be infected. STOP USING THE INFECTED COMPUTER IMMEDIATELY.

If you have received these e-mails, or any other suspicious e-mail about Bahrain with an attachment, please contact bill@bahrainwatch.org with details.

Tips for Safe Internet Usage

Do not open unsolicited attachments received via email, Skype or any other communications mechanism.  If you believe that you are being targeted, be especially cautious when downloading files over the Internet, even from links that are purportedly sent by friends.

Contact Bahrain Watch 

If you prefer, email your comments to info@jadaliyya.com.

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