Selling spyware, making millions, breaking sanctions…

Graham Cluley

Mobile crowd thumb


Kudos to investigators at Al Jazeera who went undercover, approaching three companies on behalf of the governments of Iran and South Sudan – and found it all too easy to buy surveillance technology that could be used to spy on the countries’ citizens.

Of course, shipping surveillance and spying equipment to authoritarian regimes breaks international sanctions, as the devices could be used to spy upon activists, political rivals and dissidents.. and could potentially lead to them being interrogated, tortured or even killed.

No logo

And if it wasn’t troubling enough that the companies seemed prepared to supply the likes of South Sudan and Iran with such technology – or at least find a way to waltz past red tape and suggest ways in which the surveillance equipment could be brought to banned countries – then it’s even more troubling that one of the companies approached simply didn’t care who the eventual customer might be.

In short, those selling the spying equipment at that particular Chinese-based firm didn’t care if it ended up in the hands of a dictatorship, organised criminal gang or terrorists.

And why should they care? After all, they’re looking potentially at orders totalling millions of dollars. All they have to worry about is ensuring that the hardware they provide doesn’t carry their logo, and that any documentation fails to mention that they were the manufacturers. And, if they need to sneak it past awkward government officials, maybe they can just fill in the forms to claim that the suitcase-sized box of tricks they’re selling is a Wi-Fi router rather than an IMSI catcher or sophisticated IP intercept system.

Of course, when faced with the evidence that Al Jazeera collected the firms concerned disassociated themselves with what was said on camera, and said that they only worked within the law.

Hmm.. I wonder.

Make sure to watch the Al Jazeera report, and for more discussion check out the latest episode of the “Smashing Security” podcast:

Listen on Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Other... | RSS
More episodes...

Graham Cluley Graham Cluley is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s when he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and is an international public speaker on the topic of computer security, hackers, and online privacy. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley, or drop him an email.

One Reply to “Selling spyware, making millions, breaking sanctions…”

  1. They do it because they can. There's a good description of a surveillance state in an Islamist country when the Assassins were in power. It can be found in a book, "The Crusades Through Moslem Eyes.". I does help when there is only one gate to the walled town.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Never miss a thing. Sign up for the free GCHQ newsletter from Graham Cluley.
GET EMAIL UPDATES