By RAPHAEL SATTERAssociated Press
LONDON (AP) - The discovery of a new group of servers linked to an elusive espionage campaign is providing new details about a German-made, high-tech piece of spy software that some fear may be used to target dissidents by oppressive regimes.
A Canadian research center said Wednesday that it had identified 25 different countries that host servers linked to FinFisher, a Trojan horse program which can dodge anti-virus protections to steal data, log keystrokes, eavesdrop on Skype calls, and turn microphones and webcams into live surveillance devices.
Citizen Lab, based at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, said that Canada, Mexico, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Serbia, and Vietnam were among the host countries newly identified in Wednesday's report. That alone doesn't necessarily mean those countries' governments are using FinFisher, a program distributed by British company Gamma International, but it is an indication of the spyware's international reach.
Morgan Marquis-Boire, the report's lead author, said his goal was "to show the proliferation of this type of active intrusion and surveillance." In telephone interview, he said that the world of government surveillance was changing and urged journalists, aid workers, and activists to take note.
"It's not just phone tapping," he said. "It's installing a backdoor on your computer to record your Skype conversations and go through your email."
Advocacy group Privacy International said the report was further evidence that Gamma had sold FinFisher to repressive regimes, calling it a "potential breach of UK export laws."
Gamma had no immediate comment.
The company, based in the English town of Andover, has come under increasing scrutiny after a sales pitch for the spyware was recovered from an Egyptian state security building shortly after the toppling of dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Reporting by Bloomberg News subsequently identified opposition activists from the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain as targets of the company's surveillance software.
The discovery of FinFisher servers in countries run by authoritarian governments - such as Turkmenistan and Ethiopia - have raised further questions about the company's practices. On Tuesday, Paris-based journalists' rights group Reporters Without Borders named Gamma one of its five "corporate enemies of the Internet."
Gamma referred questions about FinFisher to its German developer, Martin Muench. Muench did not immediately return several emails seeking comment, but in a recent interview with German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, he defended his work as part of the fight against crime.
"I think it's good when the police do their job," Muench told the daily. He dismissed the notion that what he was doing was violating anyone's human rights.
"Software doesn't torture anybody," he said.
Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.
Citizen Lab report: https://citizenlab.org/2013/03/you-only-click-twice-finfishers-global-pr...
Gamma's description of FinFisher: http://www.finfisher.com/FinFisher/en/index.php
Reporters Without Borders on why Gamma is an "enemy of the Internet": http://surveillance.rsf.org/en/gamma-international/
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