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FinFisher spyware goes global, mobile and undercover

Report claims to have found C&C servers in 25 countries

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Security researchers have warned that the controversial FinFisher spyware has been updated to evade detection and has now been discovered in 25 countries across the globe, many of them in APAC.

FinFisher, also known as FinSpy, is produced by Anglo/German firm Gamma International and marketed as a “lawful interception” suite designed for law enforcers to monitor suspected criminals.

However, it’s alleged to have been used by repressive regimes in countries like Bahrain and Egypt to target human rights activists and other enemies of the state.

The British government has already apparently told Gamma it needs a license to export the software outside the EU, while human rights groups last month requested that the OECD investigate whether the firm violated its guidelines by failing to carry out due diligence on how the software would be used in Bahrain.

Now, researchers at Toronto University’s Munk School of Global Affairs, who have been tracking the use of this surveillance-ware for over a year, say they’ve found 36 new command and control servers, 30 of which are new, in 19 countries.

This brings the total number of countries where the spyware has been found to 25, they said.

The researchers also claimed that as of October last year “the behavior of FinSpy servers began to change”, in a bid to evade detection.

There’s a heavy APAC bias to the countries where servers have been found, with Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam all on the list.

The report has a handy map showing the breakdown of countries and a list of the newly found servers and related ISPs.

The researchers added the following caveat:

Importantly, we believe that our list of servers is incomplete due to the large diversity of ports used by FinSpy servers, as well as other efforts at concealment. Moreover, discovery of a FinSpy command and control server in a given country is not a sufficient indicator to conclude the use of FinFisher by that country’s law enforcement or intelligence agencies. In some cases, servers were found running on facilities provided by commercial hosting providers that could have been purchased by actors from any country.

In the case of Vietnam, the report details the discovery of a mobile version of FinSpy featuring GPS tracking and the ability to snoop on conversations close to the handset, as well as pilfering text messages from the device.

In Indonesia, meanwhile, the three ISPs involved are under investigation by the authorities on suspicion of spying on their customers, according to TechInAsia.

Kenny Lee, principal for Verizon APAC’s Investigative Response unit, cautioned that “just because a piece of software is found within a particular country, doesn’t necessarily mean it originates from that country”.

“As we have seen time and time again, anyone anywhere could have set up the server,” he told The Reg, adding that corporates should always be alert to the risks posed by spyware.

He recommended IT admins monitor event logs for suspicious activity, eliminate any unnecessary data from the organisation, and “ensure fundamental and common sense security countermeasures are in place and functioning correctly”.

In light of the findings, the report calls for a “policy debate about surveillance software and the commercialisation of offensive cyber capabilities”.

It should be noted that, as mentioned in the report, Gamma International has repeatedly denied any links to the spyware and servers revealed by Munk School researchers.

However, it was named on a recent report from Reporters Without Borders as one of five corporate “enemies of the internet” which has produced technology “which has repeatedly been discovered in countries who mistreat journalists”. ®

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