Swiss coder publicises government spy Trojan

'MegaPanzer' made public on GPL license no less.

A software engineer who created Trojans for the Swiss authorities to intercept Voice-over-IP (VoIP) phone calls has published the source code to his programs in order to draw attention to the surveillance threat posed by such software.

As reported by Techworld in October 2006, Ruben Unteregger's ex-employer, ERA IT Solutions, tasked him with writing a 'white' Trojan capable of intercepting, recording and uploading Skype and other VoIP calls - software subsequently used by the Swiss Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (UVEK).

The technique of recording voice calls as MP3 files in situ neatly sidestepped Skype's main anti-wiretapping feature, namely its use of strong, proprietary encryption. However, it did first require that the program had to somehow find its way on to the monitored individual's PC using Trojan-like software subterfuge.

Now Unteregger has explained in an interview why he has made available the source code and compiled binary to two of his 'Bundestrojaner', or government Trojans, dubbed 'MiniPanzer' and 'MegaPanzer' (shorn only of some of their backdoor and firewall-bypassing code) under the GPL license.

"There won't be problems about copyright, because ERA IT Solutions let me keep it," says Unteregger in a translated interview. "The code will be published, it will get analysed as soon as the binaries got uploaded, signature patterns will be created by anti-virus companies, the malware will be detected, blocked and deleted, if it tries to infect a system."

Unteregger's motivation in making public the source code of his appears to be to draw attention to the insecurity of programs such as Skype, while staying on the right side of a confidentiality agreement he signed with ERA on which companies and agencies have been using his software. Publishing the code will also render its use redundant by security agencies.

An accompanying video showing how Trojans can be used to steal from online banks has been removed from the websites on which it was published, apparently to allay security concerns.

Trojan-based snooping of one sort or another is probably common among European police, with reports of such activities emerging in Germany and Austria in recent times. What is less clear-cut is the legality of such intrusive surveillance given the malware-like techniques necessary to infect the PCs of those being watched.

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John E. Dunn

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