Journalists and Rights Activists in U.S. among Targets of Cyberattacks by Foreign Regimes

Saturday, February 15, 2014
(AP graphic)

Foreign governments have taken to using cyberattacks to intimidate journalists and human rights activists in the United States and elsewhere who expose injustices around the globe.


Citizen Lab, a nonprofit research organization, says it has identified numerous accounts of foreign hackers using commercial spyware to infiltrate the computers of activists and reporters.


Examples include Mesay Mekonnen, an Ethiopian journalist based in Northern Virginia, whose desktop computer was corrupted by spyware used by the government of his former country.


The software, made by Hacking Team, an Italian company with an office in Annapolis, Maryland, is capable of harvesting files from hard drives, accessing video chats, reading emails, stealing contact lists, and remotely turning on cameras and microphones without a computer user’s knowledge.


“To invade the privacy of American citizens and legal residents, violating the sovereignty of the United States and European countries, is mind-boggling,” Neamin Zeleke, managing director of the news service employing Mekonnen that transmits its news reports to Ethiopia, told The Washington Post.


The Ethiopian government has denied using spyware.


Citizen Lab says in addition to Ethiopia, the governments of Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia have also used Hacking Team products.


Other victims of the commercial spyware include Mamfakinch, a Moroccan news organization; Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights activist imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates; and an American woman who has publicly criticized a secretive Turkish organization that is building schools in the United States.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Foreign Regimes Use Spyware against Journalists, Even in U.S. (by Craig Timberg, Washington Post)

National Guard Turns to Defending Nation from Cyberattacks (by Danny Biederman and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

FBI, Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Center Declare Cyber-Attacks Bigger Threat than Terrorism (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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