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Hacking Team Breach Reveals Firm Sold Spying Tools To Repressive Regimes


What happens when one of the world's most notorious hacking companies gets hacked? Well, that's the situation unfolding for an Italian firm. As NPR's Elise Hu explains, it sells software to governments, large and small, with this kind of message.



ELISE HU, BYLINE: This is a recent advertisement for surveillance software from a company called HackingTeam. The software can track citizens, access text messages, emails and overcome data encryption.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Exactly what we do - the hacking suite for governmental interception.

HU: HackingTeam sells its work as, quote, "stealth and untraceable." But the surveillance company itself just had its secrets spilled out in the form of a 500-gigabyte data dump. Whoever's behind the stolen data hasn't come forward. NPR verified that at least some of the hacked personal passwords do check out. And if the other documents are true, they show HackingTeam sells its software to private companies in at least three dozen countries. That includes the United States and some of the world's most repressive regimes.

CHRISTOPHER SOGHIAN: These documents provide, finally, a smoking gun showing that HackingTeam has, in fact, sold its technology to a number of governments with truly atrocious human rights record.

HU: Christopher Soghian is a privacy activist with the ACLU. He's reviewed 500 gigs and found evidence of hacking teams selling to Russia, Kazakhstan and Sudan the very surveillance-enabling, code-breaking, privacy-intercepting software from that dramatic commercial

SOGHIAN: What this shows us is that surveillance software - advanced surveillance capabilities are now available to the largest and smallest governments in the world. We really need to have a bigger conversation about whether these tools should be used in democracies.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Italian).

HU: For now, the person who answered the phone at HackingTeam's Italian headquarters directed questions to an email address. But much of the information that had been a mystery, like the company's client lists and contracts, are now published online. Elise Hu, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.
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