Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Germany: Remote Personal Computer Surveillance

A German hacker organization claims to have cracked spying software allegedly used by German authorities. The Trojan horse has functions which go way beyond those allowed by German law. The news has sparked a wave of outrage among politicians and media commentators.

Sunday's edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung
newspaper devoted five pages to printing part of the
Trojan horse's source code.

It sounds like something out of George Orwell's novel "1984" -- a computer program that can remotely control someone's computer without their knowledge, search its complete contents and use it to conduct audio-visual surveillance via the microphone or webcam.

But the spy software that the famous German hacker organization Chaos Computer Club has obtained is not used by criminals looking to steal credit-card data or send spam e-mails. If the CCC is to be believed, the so-called "Trojan horse" software was used by German authorities. The case has already triggered a political shockwave in the country and could have far-reaching consequences.

On Saturday, the CCC announced that it had been given hard drives containing a "state spying software" which had allegedly been used by German investigators to carry out surveillance of Internet communication. The organization had analyzed the software and found it to be full of defects. They also found that it transmitted information via a server located in the US. As well as its surveillance functions, it could be used to plant files on an individual's computer. It was also not sufficiently protected, so that third parties with the necessary technical skills could hijack the Trojan horse's functions for their own ends. The software possibly violated German law, the organization said.

So-called Trojan horse software can be surreptitiously delivered by a harmless-looking e-mail and installed on a user's computer without their knowledge, where it can be used to, for example, scan the contents of a hard drive. In 2007, the German Interior Ministry announced it haddesigned a Trojan horse that could be used to search the hard drives of terror suspects.

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