As a Professor, attorney, and technologist, I deliver many academic lectures at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, lecture at conferences to professional organizations, and train law enforcement around the country. In 2012, I began warning of FinFisher, a German-based company (previously U.K.-based) that produces and sells computer intrusion systems, including remote monitoring solutions, and had recently developed the ultimate spyware for smartphones and computers.
Back then, details of FinFisher and its software were not publicly available. The company is secretive as its clients are government intelligence agencies. Some of FinFisher’s clients include nations with poor records on human rights, personal liberties, and privacy, including Mongolia, Pakistan, Vietnam, Nigeria, and Singapore. FinFisher has also reportedly sold software to intelligence communities in South Africa, Australia, Belgium, Slovakia, and the Netherlands.
In 2012, there was little information publicly available as to the full capabilities and reach of FinFisher’s software products. However, since then, information has slowly leaked out through WikiLeaks and other reputable sources. Today, FinFisher is known to produce the most powerful commercial weaponized surveillance malware software packages on the planet.
Two products of significance are FinSpy PC (computer spyware) and FinFisher Relay (smartphone spyware), which when installed grant the ability to intercept all files/documents and communications, such as those over Skype, email, and even video and audio through the webcam and microphone. These two software products can be remotely “pushed” (installed without the user’s knowledge or actions via a Trojan Horse or other method) to any computer or smartphone. This includes OS X, Windows and Linux computers, as well as Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Symbian, and Windows mobile devices. Users of these devices do not have to be anywhere near the vicinity of the person installing the malware. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to identify that the malware has been installed without conducting a deep forensic analysis.
Disturbingly, researchers at citizenlab.org published evidence and reports showing the use of FinSpy PC and FinFisher Relay against journalists, activists, and political non-desirables around the world by government intelligence agencies. But at least the software was only available to international government intelligence agencies and generally kept out of the hands of cyber criminals… until now.
In 2013, during a presentation to the United States Association of Inspectors’ General, I warned that it was only a matter of time until FinFisher’s software would leak out on the web, becoming accessible to cyber criminals and others with malicious intent.
That day has arrived.
Yesterday, on September 15, 2014, Julian Assange, WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief, allowed both FinSpy PC and FinFisher Relay to be openly published on WikiLeaks.org. In other words, as of yesterday, millions of cyber criminals around the world have access to a weaponized surveillance malware package that can be installed with very little effort, giving access to almost all the data on a user’s computer or smartphone.
Within minutes of the site going live, I received a barrage of communications via phone, email, Twitter, and text message from students, law enforcement, and researchers around the world. Most people just wanted to talk about the release of the software, while others asked how long it would take me to download and analyze the software.
Before lunchtime, my lab at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (The Advanced Research Domain for Information Security in Public Policy) had downloaded all available software and documentation. While my team and I obviously cannot deploy the software “in the wild,” we are able to analyze its code to determine exactly how virulent the software really is. We will be devoting a significant amount to time in the near future to analyze this threat and report our findings.
There is a glimpse of bright light shining through the murky water… Julian Assange and WikiLeaks did not release this software for cyber criminals to obtain and use, although it will be an unintended result. Their primary goal was to allow security researchers to analyze the code to come up with methods to protect us all (the public). While we are all at risk today, you can be sure that future software updates from Apple, Google, and Microsoft will contain significant security improvements rendering this software obsolete. That is, of course, until FinFisher updates the code within their products, and the cycle starts over again…
Adam Scott Wandt, J.D., M.P.A., is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where he serves on both the Graduate faculty of the Digital Forensics and Cyber Security program and the Masters of Public Administration in Inspection and Oversight program. Professor Wandt is an Attorney and Counselor-at-Law in the State of New York.
Media requests on this issue should be sent to the attention of firstname.lastname@example.org with FinFisher clearly identified in the subject line.
Professor Wandt On Twitter: @Prof_Wandt