Activists release Detekt tool that finds surveillance malware

The tool is a joint project of multiple privacy groups who investigated malware used to target journalists and human rights activists

A free tool released Thursday allows users to scan their computers for surveillance malware that has been used in attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and political activists around the world.

The open-source tool is called Detekt and was developed by security researcher Claudio Guarnieri. It was released in partnership with Amnesty International, Digitale Gesellschaft, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Privacy International.

Detekt scans computers for infection patterns associated with several families of remote access Trojans (RATs): DarkComet RAT, XtremeRAT, BlackShades RAT, njRAT, FinFisher FinSpy, HackingTeam RCS, ShadowTech RAT and Gh0st RAT.

Some of these malware programs have been used in attacks by cybercriminals, but also in cyberespionage campaigns against non-governmental organizations, human rights activists, journalists and religious or ethnic minority groups.

Some tools, like FinFisher FinSpy and HackingTeam RCS, were created by commercial entities and are sold to law enforcement and other government agencies around the world. They provide a wide range of surveillance capabilities including reading emails and instant messaging conversations, listening in on Skype calls and even remotely turning on a computer's camera and microphone.

Even though the companies that create these tools, Gamma International and Hacking Team, claim to carefully screen their customers and only sell to legitimate law enforcement agencies, independent reports suggest that such tools have been used against journalists and political activists in countries where human rights are poorly protected.

While Detekt can be a good start to identify potential infections, it does not guarantee that a system is completely clean of surveillance malware.

"Beware that it is possible that Detekt may not successfully detect the most recent versions of those malware families," the developers wrote in the tool's readme file. "Indeed, some of them will likely be updated in response to this release in order to remove or change the patterns that we identified. In addition, there may be existing versions of malware, from these families or from other providers, which are not detected by this tool. If Detekt does not find anything, this unfortunately cannot be considered a clean bill of health."

It's also worth noting that Detekt is a detection tool, not a removal tool. The resistsurveillance.org site that was set up to distribute the program advises users who scan their computers with it and find spyware to seek expert help.

"Firstly, stop using the infected computer immediately and disconnect it from the Internet, other network and removable devices, unless strictly necessary," the website reads. "Secondly, decide whether to dispose of the computer or keep it and seek further assistance to investigate the attack and help you to safely recover your computer. We suggest that you speak with an expert to help you make this decision."

The site lists email addresses from experts working with the project.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Privacy InternationalsecurityDesktop securityAmnesty InternationalspywaremalwareprivacyElectronic Frontier FoundationDigitale Gesellschaft

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.

Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Crucial Ballistix Elite 32GB Kit (4 x 8GB) DDR4-3000 UDIMM

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Plox Star Wars Death Star Levitating Bluetooth Speaker

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?