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FinFisher command-and-control hubs turn up in 11 new countries

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Researchers from a Canadian academic institution plan to release new findings pointing to the continued global spread of cyber surveillance software.

The report, authored by Citizen Lab, part of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, detected command and control (C&C) servers supporting a spy software toolkit known as FinFisher in 11 new countries: Hungary, Turkey, Romania, Panama, Lithuania, Macedonia, South Africa, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bulgaria and Austria.

That brings the total number of nations found to be housing FinFisher C&C servers, either actively or in the past, at 36, according to researchers Morgan Marquis-Boire, Bill Marzack, Claudio Guarnieri and John Scott-Railton.

FinFisher, billed as an ‘IT intrusion and remote monitoring solution' that is ‘solely offered to law enforcement and intelligence agencies' to covertly monitor criminals, is distributed by UK-based Gamma International. However, according to researchers, it has been used by repressive regimes, for example by the Bahraini government to spy on dissidents.

Citizen Lab has said in the past that evidence of C&C servers is not necessarily indicative that the surveillance technology is being used by the government or authorities in those countries. Researchers instead appear to be using the new findings as ammunition to further justify the need for international policy debates around the expansion of this style of software.

“This research is one of the first extended projects to map out the operation and prevalence of commercial surveillance software,” researchers said in a blog post on Tuesday.

“Our work opens a window into this space, but it remains crucial that the nature and impact of the commercial surveillance market must be better understood. Technical research in this field has only just begun, but it is already clear that the stakes are high. We hope this report will contribute to discussions on this issue in technical, civil society, and policy making communities.”

In previous communication with SC Magazine, Martin J Muench, founder of Gamma Group, defended its technology "as powerful tools in the fight against sophisticated groups involved in terrorism and organised crime".

He said: “FinFisher provides the capacity for the law enforcement agencies carefully to monitor and control the extent of any investigation and provides a comprehensive activity log for the entire operation. As the system also comes with a pre-set limit on the number of suspects that may be investigated at any time, it prevents ‘trawling'".

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