Champing at the Cyberbit [Shouldn’t that be: Chomping on Cyberbit?]

Champing at the Cyberbit: Ethiopian Dissidents Targeted with New Commercial Spyware by Bill Marczak, Geoffrey Alexander, Sarah McKune, John Scott-Railton, and Ron Deibert.

From the post:

Key Findings

  • This report describes how Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted with emails containing sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins. Targets include a US-based Ethiopian diaspora media outlet, the Oromia Media Network (OMN), a PhD student, and a lawyer. During the course of our investigation, one of the authors of this report was also targeted.
  • We found a public logfile on the spyware’s command and control server and monitored this logfile over the course of more than a year. We saw the spyware’s operators connecting from Ethiopia, and infected computers connecting from IP addresses in 20 countries, including IP addresses we traced to Eritrean companies and government agencies.
  • Our analysis of the spyware indicates it is a product known as PC Surveillance System (PSS), a commercial spyware product with a novel exploit-free architecture. PSS is offered by Cyberbit — an Israel-based cyber security company that is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems — and marketed to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
  • We conducted Internet scanning to find other servers associated with PSS and found several servers that appear to be operated by Cyberbit themselves. The public logfiles on these servers seem to have tracked Cyberbit employees as they carried infected laptops around the world, apparently providing demonstrations of PSS to the Royal Thai Army, Uzbekistan’s National Security Service, Zambia’s Financial Intelligence Centre, the Philippine President’s Malacañang Palace, ISS World Europe 2017 in Prague, and Milipol 2017 in Paris. Cyberbit also appears to have provided other demos of PSS in France, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Rwanda, Serbia, and Nigeria.

Detailed research and reporting, the like of which is absent in reporting about election year “hacks” in the United States.

Despite the excellence of reporting in this post, I find it disappointing that Citizen Lab sees this as an occasion for raising legal and regulatory issues. Especially in light of the last substantive paragraph noting:

As we explore in a separate analysis, while lawful access and intercept tools have legitimate uses, the significant insecurities and illegitimate targeting we have documented that arise from their abuse cannot be ignored. In the absence of stronger norms and incentives to induce state restraint, as well as more robust regulation of spyware companies, we expect that authoritarian and other politically corrupt leaders will continue to obtain and use spyware to covertly surveil and invisibly sabotage the individuals and institutions that hold them to account.

Exposing the abuse of peaceful citizens by their governments is a powerful tool but for me, it falls far short of holding them to account. I have always thought of being “held to account” meant there were negative consequences associated with undesirable behavior.

Do you know of any examples of governments holding Cyberbit or similar entities accountable?

I am aware that the U.S. Congress has from time to time passed legislation “regulating the CIA” and other agencies, all of which was ignored by the regulated agencies. That doesn’t sound like accountability to me.

You?

PS: Despite my disagreement on the call for action, this is a great example of how to provide credible details about malicious cyberactivity. Would that members of the IC would read it and take it to heart.

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