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Ethiopia using spyware to monitor political activists: report


By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

March 31, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) - A recently released report has indicated that the Ethiopian government is using a controversial spyware software called FinSpy to monitor the political activities of opposition groups in the country.

The report by the Citizen Lab based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto said Ethiopia has used the surveillance technology to interfere with the political activities of Ginbot 7, an exiled opposition movement, designated as a terrorist entity by the Ethiopian government in 2011.

The researchers found a version of FinSpy in Ethiopia that tricked users into downloading FinSpy embedded photos and an image file of Ginbot 7.

According to the report, the Internet Protocol (IP) address used in tracking the opposition’s movements belonged to Ethiopia’s state-owned telecommunications corporation, Ethio Telecom.

“The existence of a FinSpy sample that contains Ethiopia-specific imagery and that communicates with a still-active command and control server in Ethiopia strongly suggests that the Ethiopian government is using FinSpy,” said Morgan Marquis-Boire, a security researcher and technical advisor at the Munk School and a security engineer at Google.

Ethiopian officials were unavailable on Sunday to respond to the allegations. However, in comments made to a local newspaper, an unnamed official from the ministry of communications and information technology (MoCIT) has dismissed the purchase and use of spyware technologies.

The report revealed that more countries are using the spyware technology than previously thought.

FinSpy was detected in 25 countries, including the United States, as well as several other countries with dubious human right records.

The software is designed to secretly infiltrate targeted computers or mobile phones to monitor communications and siphon data, such as passwords and audio from Skype calls, which it then transmits back to a server.

FinSpy surveillance software is commonly used by law enforcement agencies to monitor criminals. However, the report shows it is also being widely used by a number of repressive regimes, namely to spy on dissidents, independent human rights groups and critical journalists.

The software, which was developed in Germany and is available for purchase through a UK-based subsidiary of the Gamma Group, is “regularly sold to countries where dissenting political activity and free speech is criminalised”, researchers said in the report.

The Citizen Lab conducts research in the fields of digital media, global security, and human rights, with the aim of analysing and impacting the exercise of political power in cyberspace.


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