A shadowy company based in Italy was exposed for cyber-spying and providing malware to capture the passwords of journalists and bloggers.
A report from Asia Sentinel said unknown hackers broke into the computers of the firm named as The Hacking Team, one of the world's most notorious security firms. It has offices in Milan, Washington, D.C., and Singapore.
The hacking firm is one of a few companies identified as "digital era mercenaries" because they sell products to spy surreptitiously on their own citizens.
The unidentified hackers have downloaded 400 gigabytes of internal documents, among which, tell stories of helping some of the world's most repressive countries like Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan. The Hacking Team has a total of 38 countries as their clients.
On its website, The Hacking Team enticed governments to spy to "capture relevant data" by "being stealthy and untraceable."
"You have new challenges today. Sensitive data is transmitted over encrypted channels. Often the info you want is not transmitted at all. Your target may be outside your monitoring domain. Is passive monitoring enough? You want more. You want to look through your target's eyes. You have to hack your target," it said.
French non-profit organization Reporters Without Borders (RWB), which defends freedom of information and the press, said these hacking firms sell products that are used by authoritarian governments to commit violations of human rights and freedom of information.
Among these are Gamma, Trovicor, Hacking Team, Amesys and Blue Coat.
According to RWB, Bahrain's royal family has used Trovicor's surveillance and interception products to spy on news providers and arrest them. Blue Coat's packet inspection products also spied on Syrian citizens and dissidents to arrest and torture them. Amesys provided products to the Libyan secret police during the late Muammar Gaddafi's reign. The Hacking Team and Gamma have provided malware to capture the passwords of journalists and bloggers.
RWB also said regimes prefer to act discreetly rather than resorting to content blocking which is easily circumvented. The Hacking Team's system, for example, allows governments to take control of target computers and monitor them regardless of encryption and mobility.
These systems can also monitor all devices, its Remote Control System evades firewalls and antivirus, and do not affect performance or battery life.
Other The Hacking Team's clients include Mexico, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Singapore, Egypt, South Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, and Thailand.