Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Amnesty International's new tool can detect government spyware programs, the human rights group says. (Photo: Electronic Frontier Foundation/flickr/cc)

'Resist Surveillance': Human Rights Groups Launch Tool to Detect Spyware

Detekt finds traces of 'dangerous and sophisticated' technology used by repressive governments against journalists and human rights defenders, Amnesty International says

Nadia Prupis

Amnesty International released a free program on Wednesday that scans computers for surveillance software that is often used by governments to spy on journalists, human rights lawyers, political organizers, and other activists—technology that has been discovered to be in use in countries around the world.

"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," said Marek Marczynski, Head of Military, Security and Police at Amnesty International.

The tool, aptly named Detekt, scans PC computers for programs like FinSpy, also known as FinFisher. Both are products of Gamma International, a German-UK company that may have lied about its associations with a number of oppressive Middle Eastern regimes, according to a recent investigation.

One such regime was the Bahraini government, which had used FinFisher to spy on prominent lawyers, politicians, and journalists during the Arab Spring revolutionary movement in 2011. FinFisher can be used to read emails, monitor Skype conversations, extract files from hard drives, and remotely operate a target's computer microphone and webcam.

As Amnesty notes, there have been few attempts to safeguard against these kinds of invasive programs. Until now.

Detekt "represents a strike back against governments who are using information obtained through surveillance to arbitrarily detain, illegally arrest and even torture human rights defenders and journalists," added Marczynski.

Because Detekt cannot remove or delete any infections it finds, its recommendations are simple: disconnect from the internet and seek expert assistance from a different computer.

"If Detekt indicates signs of infection, you should assume that your computer has been compromised and is no longer safe for use," the website states.

The tool was developed by security researcher Claudio Guarnieri. Amnesty is launching it in partnership with Digitale Gesellschaft, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Privacy International.

"These spying tools are marketed on their ability to get round your bog-standard anti-virus," Tanya O'Carroll, an adviser on technology and human rights at Amnesty International, told the BBC. "It's easier to name the countries that are not using these spying tools than those that are."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Trump Says Mar-a-Lago 'Under Siege, Raided, and Occupied' by FBI

"The accountability our democracy desperately needs for its survival might, just might, be a real possibility," said the head of a watchdog group.

Common Dreams staff ·

New Ad Against Herschel Walker Features Ex-Wife's Domestic Violence Accusations

A leader at the anti-Trump group behind the advertisement targeting the U.S. Senate candidate said that "our campaign is built around the voices of Georgia Republicans who know that he's unfit for office."

Jessica Corbett ·

Michigan AG Urges Probe of Alleged GOP-Led Effort to Break Into Voting Machines

"We must denounce the Big Lie and those who refuse to uphold the will of the people in our elections," said one democracy defender.

Brett Wilkins ·

Hopes Rise for Return to Iran Nuclear Deal Destroyed by Trump

"We stand five minutes or five seconds from the finish line," said one negotiator, who added that "three or four issues" that are "sensitive for Iranians and Americans" remain to be resolved.

Brett Wilkins ·

Sinema Received Over $500K From Private Equity Before Shielding Industry From Tax Hikes

"Remember the days when taking half a million bucks from an industry, and then passing legislation that only benefits that industry, while passing the costs onto everyone else, would be called corruption?" asked one critic. "Today it's just lobbying as usual."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo