July 25, 2012

Malicious E-Mail Attachments Sent to Activists Steal Passwords, Record Skype Calls

Bahrain’s government is spying on Bahraini activists with a malicious computer program apparently supplied by a UK firm.

Bahrain Watch founding member Bill Marczak, and Citizen Lab security researcher Morgan Marquis-Boire analyzed a string of suspicious e-mails sent to activists over the past two months. The e-mails promised exclusive images or documents about the political situation in Bahrain. Upon closer examination, the e-mails were found to contain attachments that installed a malicious program on a victim’s computer. Some of these e-mails impersonated Al Jazeera English reporter Melissa Chan.

The malicious program was found to record keystrokes, take screenshots, record Skype calls, and steal passwords saved in web browsers, e-mail programs, and instant messaging programs. The malicious program sent this data to an internet address in Bahrain.

The analysis suggests that the malicious program is “FinSpy,” a product of UK firm Gamma International. FinSpy belongs to the FinFisher suite for “Governmental IT Intrusion and Remote Monitoring Solutions.” Gamma International was criticized for apparently selling the same product to Mubarak’s regime in Egypt. Before technology giant Apple closed the security gap, FinSpy would infect computers by tricking users into thinking that it was an iTunes update. London-based NGO Privacy International has threatened to take the UK government to court for failing to control the export of surveillance technology to repressive foreign regimes.

During the analysis of FinSpy, a stolen GMail password was later used in an attempt to access the GMail account, suggesting that the Bahraini government is actively monitoring and exploiting the information captured by FinSpy.

A detailed report of the technical analysis of the program can be read at: https://citizenlab.org. A non-technical report of the analysis by Bloomberg News can be read at: bloomberg.com/news... Bahrain Watch would like to extend its gratitude to all of the activists, researchers, and journalists, including those at Bloomberg News, who contributed to this story.

Bahrain Watch is a monitoring and advocacy group that seeks to promote effective, accountable, and transparent governance in Bahrain through research and evidence-based activism. About Bahrain Watch: bahrainwatch.org