Reporters Without Borders slams five nations for spying on media, activists

The press freedom advocate called for more harmonized controls over the export of spying technology

Reporters Without Borders named five countries that regularly spy on journalists and dissidents, a practice the group contends is made possible with advanced technology from private companies.

The Paris-based group, which is an international advocate for press freedom, labeled Syria, China, Iran, Bahrain and Vietnam as "enemies of the internet" in a new report for their alleged increased online surveillance.

The group timed the release of its report with the World Day Against Cyber Censorship, and said that around 180 people are imprisoned worldwide for delivering news online.

"Surveillance in these countries targets dissidents and has grown in recent months," RSF said. "Cyberattacks and intrusions, including the use of malware against dissidents and their networks, are on the increase."

RSF charged the surveillance is made possible through equipment supplied by technology companies, including Gamma International, Trovicor, Hacking Team, Amesys and Blue Coat Systems. The companies should know their products could be misused if sold to certain countries, RSF said.

And if their products were sold by an intermediary, "their failure to keep track of the exports of their own software means they did not care if their technology was misused and did not care about the vulnerability of those who defend human rights," RSF said.

The group called for the introduction of controls around the export of surveillance tools. It praised the U.S. and European Union for banning the export of spying software to Iran and Syria, but said there should be a more harmonized approach.

RSF said the types of products the companies produce fall into two categories: equipment used for large-scale monitoring of Internet activity and spyware, used for targeting individuals.

Efforts to reach the companies were not immediately successful. Blue Coat, based in the U.S., has been repeatedly criticized since the company admitted in late 2011 that some of its Web-filtering products ended up in Syria despite a U.S. embargo.

Gamma International, based in the U.K. and Germany, develops an interception tool intended for law enforcement called FinFisher. Gamma contested findings last year from researchers that FinFisher had been sold to Bahrain's government to target activists.

Trovicor, based in Munich, Germany, and Hacking Team, based in Milan, Italy, both make interception-related software. Amesys of France was found to have sold its EAGLE software, which analyzes Web traffic, to Libya during the Gaddafi regime, RSF said in its report.

RSF said that in general spying software can access hard disks, recover passwords and access messages on instant-messaging platforms as well as monitor VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) conversations.

The tools have legitimate purposes for fighting cybercrime, but when used by authoritarian regimes "can be turned into formidable censorship and surveillance weapons against human rights defenders and independent news providers."

"The lack of legislation and oversight of trade in these 'digital weapons' allows authoritarian governments to identify critical journalists and citizen journalists and go after them," RSF said.

RSF has published an "online survival kit" with tools and tips for activists and journalists to better safeguard their privacy.

Even RSF itself has proved a target. In January, the group's website was hacked and rigged to attack the computers of people visiting the site. Hackers often target websites that attract a particular type of visitor.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Government use of ITTrovicorsecuritygovernmentBlue Coat Systemsdata protectionmalwareGamma InternationalAmesysHacking TeamReporters Without Borders

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?