Amnesty International has announced the creation of a program that can detect the types of spying software frequently employed by governments to monitor activists and dissidents.
The Human rights organization, which partnered with three like-minded groups to develop the program, declared that the new system was very much needed, as standard anti-virus programs frequently miss spying software.
According to Amnesty, many governments employ such spying software to monitor their targets. Some of these programs can hijack webcams, or even listen in to conversation via compromised microphones. The spying programs leave little trace of themselves on the computer and, as a result, are notoriously difficult to uncover.
Marek marczynski, Amnesty’s Head of Military, Security and Police, is quoted on the organization’s website as saying, “Governments are increasingly using dangerous and sophisticated technology that allows them to read activists and journalists’ private emails and remotely turn on their computer’s camera or microphone to secretly record their activities. They use the technology in a cowardly attempt to prevent abuses from being exposed,”
This new program, named ‘Detekt’, is capable of spotting even remote traces of such harmful software and warning the computer’s owner about it. Developed by four separate Human rights groups, Amnesty, The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy International and Digitale Gesellschaft, Detekt is available completely free of charge.
According to Tanya O’Carroll, who works as a technology adviser at Amnesty, spying software has been discovered on the computers of activists in Tibet, Germany, Bahrain, Syria, Ethiopia, North Korea and Vietnam, amongst others. In fact, the world’s governments spend an estimated £3bn a year on spyware products.
In a worrying trend, such software is becoming increasingly popular with democratically elected governments, “Its easier to name the countries that are not using these spying tools than those that are” O’Carroll told BBC News.
Spread via email attachments, hacked websites, sites designed to distribute malware, or even false internal messaging software, unwanted spyware is a major challenge facing every Internet user today. According to Detekt’s makers, the major difference between general malware and government spyware is that illegal software is generally aimed at proliferating itself, whereas government spyware is principally interested in hiding itself and quietly gathering sensitive information.
Detekt was created by German security researcher Claudio Guarnieri, who asserts that a great many governments around the world are employing spyware to track and monitor people of interest to them. It has even been alleged that computer security firms have even agreed to ignore government spyware from time to time. Guarnieri told BBC News that,
“The real problem is nobody really asked the public whether that’s acceptable and some countries are legitimizing their use without considering the consequences and inherent issues.”
Amnesty International is presently looking for help to keep the program current, and also to expand it.
To find out more about Amnesty, or to make a donation, visit their official website at http://www.amnesty.org/