I’m sure you remember the major data breach that occurred on eBay’s servers last year. Well, another one occurred on a different company’s server. And, this one makes the other look like a walk in the park. Over the past weekend, the Hacking Team Corporation was attacked by hackers in one of the most ironic turns of the IT and security industry world. The data breach gathered over 400 GB of the firm’s internal files (list of clients, internal emails, and so on) into a torrent file which was then anonymously made available to the public. The Hacking Team website and, later, its Twitter account were also high-jacked by the attackers until the company apparently regained control over them Monday morning. Over the past 12 hours, the hacked Twitter account released taunts, asking whether Hacking Team was awake yet. This wasn’t the cause of the company’s ensuing PR disaster by far.
Hacking Team is perhaps one of the best-known and controversial firms dealing with hacking software and spyware which normal anti-viruses (meaning the ones which you and I use (commercial or free)) can’t detect. The firm is known for serving governments and intelligent agencies etc., from all over the world with specialized surveillance software and solutions. The firm’s reputation is especially controversial in regards to the Da Vinci system of remote hacking, which allows these governments and agencies (and maybe even private customers as long as they pay for the firm’s services) to break data encryption on emails, Internet phone calls and files etc. Basically, the Da Vinci system allows the clients (usually government systems and agencies, as mentioned above) to spy on Internet users and their communications as they please. It was this particular tool sold by Hacking Team which led Reporters without Borders to label the firm as an ‘enemy of the internet’ in 2012.
Info From Recent Data Breach on Hacking Team
In other words, Hacking Team wasn’t exactly winning any popularity awards even before the data breach, but the information revealed though it put the company even more in a negative light. According to the leaked company files, Hacking Team has a vast list of clients worldwide, counting among them even intelligence agencies such as the Egyptian MOD, the Lebanon Army Forces, the FBI and countless other customers in Malaysia, Italy, Oman, Turkey, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Israel, Poland and many, many other countries.
The most troublesome part is that the company seems to have collaborated with oppressive governments who wanted to spy on their dissidents, according to the data revealed by the leak (but which was not yet independently verified). This seems to confirm the biggest fears and suspicions that the online community had about the Hacking Team activities. The company has always stressed out that it does not do business with oppressive regimes or with entities who may use their software for human rights violations, but it was revealed that they have indeed provided this sophisticated hacking software and spyware to controversial governments and agencies. Interestingly enough, their leaked ‘service maintenance list’ notes that the contract is in place but ‘not officially supported’ for those customers which may appear unsavory to the general public (like Russia’s Intelligence Kvant Research agency or Sudan’s National Intelligence Security Service).
When the company regained control of its Twitter account (at approximately 11.30 GMT on Monday), the first message they posted in response to the taunts which had been published so far is that yes, the team is awake and that the people responsible for the data breach will be arrested. Christian Pozzi, the company’s system and security engineer, was the one who took on the task of responding to tweets and attempted to contain the disastrous PR situation. However, he didn’t seem to be doing a great job with it, considering that over the next few hours, his tweets became more and more aggressive towards anyone who was criticizing the company in regards to the recent leaks.
For example, Christian Pozzi made one claim stating that the torrent file containing the leaked files was also the host of a dangerous virus, probably in an attempt to contain the situation and limit the number of downloads. This only led to more Twitter-borne criticism, to which Pozzi stared replying on a more and more enraged tone. When Dan Tentler, a security professional from Carbon Dynamics pointed out that the passwords used by his accounts were pretty weak (some of them being simply ‘password’), the Hacking Team security engineer threatened to have him imprisoned if he continued. That surely doesn’t sound like a company who values individual freedom too much now, does it?
All in all, it’s clear that this was the most important data breach 2015 brought about so far. It’s unlikely that anything will top this Hacking Team breach by the end of the year. No matter if part of these dynamics were also due to the competition in the niche, what just transpired here can be considered a service to the internet community, who just found out a bit more how the rights of its users can be abused with the assistance of such companies. Before the internet and online environment will be more tightly regulated (and we’re not so sure that will be a good thing in the end), we can expect such struggles for dominion of data to continue to be held, at least until we will have more clear international laws over what it legal and what is not. In the meantime, raising awareness on these issues is the best we can hope to achieve to be more prepared for the debates and related events which the next decade will probably bring.