Privacy groups unveil Detekt surveillance malware detection tool


Human rights and privacy campaigners have designed a tool to sniff out state-sponsored surveillance malware.

The software, dubbed Detekt, is geared towards helping activists find out if their PCs have been infected with government-backed surveillance malware.

The campaigners behind the software include Amnesty International, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Privacy International and Germany's Digitale Gesellschaft.

Detekt was developed by security researcher Claudio Guarnieri, and is reportedly the first tool of its kind to be made publicly available that detects well-known surveillance spyware, some of which is used by government computers.

"Governments are increasingly using dangerous and sophisticated technology that allows them to read activists and journalists' private emails and remotely turn on their computer's camera or microphone to secretly record their activities," said Amnesty head of military, security and police Marek Marczynski.

"They use the technology in a cowardly attempt to prevent abuses from being exposed."

The privacy groups admitted the tool may not detect all spyware and - if any is found - it won't be removed, but the software be important in gathering evidence of surveillance taking place.

"It represents a strike back against governments who are using information obtained through surveillance to arbitrarily detain, illegally arrest and even torture human rights defenders and journalists," added Marczynski.

Some surveillance technology is widely available on the internet, while other more sophisticated alternatives are developed by private companies based in developed countries and sold to state law enforcement and intelligence agencies in countries that persistently commit human rights violations.

FinFisher, a German firm that used to be part of UK-based Gamma International, developed the FinSpy spyware which can be used to monitor Skype conversations, extract files from hard drives, record microphone use and emails, and even take screenshots and photos using a device's camera.

Finfisher was used to spy on prominent human rights lawyers and activists in Bahrain.

Marczynski said Detekt is "a great tool which can help activists stay safe but ultimately the only way to prevent these technologies from being used to violate or abuse human rights is to establish and enforce strict controls on their use and trade."

The tool can be downloaded from here.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.