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Researchers Find and Decode the Spy Tools Governments ­se to Hijack Phones


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Mobile phones were subject to surveillance through tools from Hacking Team.

A team of researchers has discovered how law enforcement and intelligence agencies used tools from Hacking Team to conduct surveillance on computer and mobile phone users.

Credit: JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images

It has long been established that law enforcement and intelligence agencies the world over use tools from Hacking Team to conduct surveillance on computer and mobile phone users, but a study of such tools performed by researchers at Kaspersky Lab and the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab has revealed a wide range of functions.

The modules target Android, BlackBerry, iOS, and Windows Mobile users, and they enable agencies to hijack the phones and steal their stored information, make recordings to monitor calls, and track the whereabouts of users. Hacking Team's tools are controlled remotely via command-and-control servers set up by its clients to monitor multiple targets. Kaspersky tracked more than 350 such servers in more than 40 nations, with the bulk of them located in the United States.

Meanwhile, Citizen Lab acquired a copy of the user's manual for the tool suite, which details how to build the surveillance infrastructure required to deliver implants to targeted devices and manage intelligence collected from infected devices. An analysis also showed that Hacking Team is cognizant of the attention its products receive from researchers and has taken steps to foil attempts to reverse-engineer its surveillance tools.

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