Fake Firefox Spyware Riles MozillaSurveillance software pretends to be Firefox to escape detection, report claims. Mozilla lawyers take action.
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Samples of FinSpy, part of the FinFisher
surveillance software suite sold by Gamma International UK Ltd to government organizations, have been found disguised as Mozilla's Firefox browser, according to a report published Tuesday.
The report, written by academic research group Citizen Lab, documents the spread of offensive computer network intrusion capabilites -- hacking tools -- marketed by Western companies.
The report notes that a Malay-language Microsoft Word document purporting to discuss Malaysia's impending 2013 election installs FinSpy spyware that masquerades as Mozilla's Firefox browser on the computers of those who open the file. It further states that this behavior has been documented previously in files targeting Bahraini activists.
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In a blog post on Tuesday, Alex Fowler, head of privacy and public policy for Mozilla, said Mozilla has sent a cease and desist letter to Gamma International to demand an end to this unlawful behavior.
"We cannot abide a software company using our name to disguise online surveillance tools that can be -- and in several cases actually have been -- used by Gamma's customers to violate citizens' human rights and online privacy," said Fowler.
Fowler stresses that the spyware doesn't alter Firefox. Rather, it represents itself as Firefox in order to evade detection. If a Windows user chooses to view the properties, for instance, he or she can expect to see "Firefox.exe" in the Details tab, along with Firefox version numbers, copyright and trademark identifiers. An examination of the spyware's manifest file conveys similar misinformation.
According to Citizen Lab, FinFisher Command & Control servers are now present in 36 countries: Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Estonia, Ethiopia, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Qatar, Romania, Serbia, Singapore, South Africa, Turkey, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam.
The organization notes in its report that the presence of such servers in a country does not necessarily mean that the software is being operated by the country's government in an official capacity. "The use of generic hosting providers such as Softcom and GPLHost is likely an attempt to camouflage the true operator of the spyware," the report says.
Citizen Lab's report goes on to question use of the term "lawful intercept," which is used to describe and justify the information gathering function of surveillance software intended for legal authorities. "There is nothing inherently lawful about the capabilities of these tools, however," the report concludes. "They are simply trojans sold to states, not individuals."
Indeed, the misappropriation of Firefox's identity appears to be a case of unlawful intercept.