There’s a whole industry of companies that make software, malware, and other products designed to help the government violate your privacy by hacking your computer or smart phone. PC World reported that the market for such surveillance tools was $5 billion a year in 2011.
What’s more disgusting is that dozens of companies peddling such software actually showed up at a trade show in Washington D.C. in October 2011. Wall Street Journal reporters attended the conference and put together a disturbing catalog of the products for sale there. This catalog, which was ignored by the mainstream media, shows the lengths to which government will go to spy upon us.
Worse, it demonstrates how easy it is for bureaucrats and politicians to learn everything about us. They don’t even have to hire hackers anymore because there are companies that will do it all for them.
Tools for Violating Your Privacy
Some of the items in the catalog include:
- The Wolfhound Cellphone Pro Detector is a device that enables authorities to completely jam all of the cellphones in an area. That means protestors might not be able to send pictures of what authorities are doing to the media or call for their lawyers or a TV to document abuses. It also lets authorities detect a cell phone in an area.
- Hacking Team is an Italian company that claims to have technology to defeat encryption and take control of mobile devices. Hacking Team’s website sells an app called a ‘Remote Controlled’ system, which once installed on a mobile device, overcomes encryption and sends all the data on the device to law enforcement agencies. This is really a Trojan, a malware that gathers data. Hacking Team claims to be in the offensive security business for government and law enforcement agencies. Hacking Team now has an office in Annapolis, Maryland, so it can sell its products to federal agencies, such as the IRS.
- AppTap for Google Android offers plug and play network monitoring. It will give the user the ability to monitor VOIP or Internet phone calls, such as Skype. AppTap can also capture all network traffic.
- The ever popular FinFisher (or FinSpy IT solution) from the British Gamma Group is the malware that lets law enforcement take over your smartphone and turn it to a device for a spying on you. Gamma Group offers a complete suite of hacking tools for law enforcement. It even has a marketing video that shows how easy it is to violate your privacy by using those tools. If you want to get really scared, take a look at the Gamma Group marketing video that WikiLeaks posted on YouTube.
- Packet Monitoring Solutions is a solution that allows federal agents to hack hundreds of computers at once and sift through vast amounts of data. It’s basically a device that an agent plugs into an intranet or extranet. In other words, they want to hardwire hacking and surveillance into the Internet. A person using one can hack into an entire network.
The Language of Hacking
The Journal also described some of the tactics used by today’s cyber spooks. There’s a whole new jargon employed for those who want to violate our privacy with malware.
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Here’s some new words and terms you might be hearing about in the years ahead. They include:
- Man in the middle – a hacking attack in which a hacker uses malware to act as a sort of buffer between devices. That way, the hacker can monitor all the communications.
- Data analysis – the surveillance technique exposed by Edward Snowden. The idea is to sift through large amounts of data and try to determine who is talking to whom; for example, to try and figure out who is calling a particular phone number or visiting a certain website. There are now computer programs that can analyze large numbers of phone calls at once by looking for certain words or terms. The IRS used a variation of this when it tried to target Tea Party groups for extra attention.
- Web scraping – a technique which monitors search engines to determine what people are searching for. An example might be trying to locate all the people searching for guns or ammunition online. This can also be called open sourced intelligence because it monitors public communications, such as websites and news. A program called Kapow Katalyst actually allows agents to sift through verbal data and copy and retain any website.
- Anonymity products programs – these allow investigators to hide their tracks and operate in secret. The idea is to let law enforcement hack computers in secret. An FBI agent hacking your computer could mask his attack as coming from Apple. There are products that let agents use somebody else’s IP address. I don’t know about you, but this sounds as if it were designed to help agents conduct warrantless or illegal searches. A company called Ntrepid specializes in products that mask IP addresses.
- “Lawful Intercept” – the ability of government to intercept any communications. The literature I saw said nothing about search warrants or the second amendment. The Journal’s reporters found 9 different products designed to do this for sale to federal agencies.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, but it shows some of the capabilities that government agencies want. Worse, it shows there are companies willing to provide those capabilities for a price.
Which Agencies Want to Spy Upon You
The Journal also compiled a list of the agencies that attended the conferences where such products are available. A few of the agencies there included:
- The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF)
- The Internal Revenue Service
- The FBI’s Criminal Intelligence Unit
- The Congressional Research Service
- The Drug Enforcement Agency
- The Defense Threat Reduction Agency
- The Department of Justice
- The Department of Homeland Security
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
- Federal Protective Service
- The Federal Communications Commission
- Naval Intelligence
- National Reconnaissance Office
- The US Army
- The Coast Guard
- US Fish and Wildlife Service
- US Navy
- US Marshal’s Service
- The Postal Inspection Service
- The Secret Service
- The US Department of Agriculture
As you can see, almost every federal law enforcement agency in the book wants to get its hands on this surveillance technology. This just lists the US federal agencies; it doesn’t list county sheriff’s departments, city police departments, and state police agencies which could order the technology, nor does it mention foreign government agencies that are interested in such capabilities.
There is now a vast well-financed industry dedicated to violating your privacy. If the government wants to violate your privacy, the tools it needs are for sale and even available at trade shows.
What’s really scary is that these lists are two years old. That means there are probably more products with enhanced capabilities available. Violating your rights has never been easier or more profitable.