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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."

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