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Hacking Team lashes out over treatment as ‘offender’

‘Had media been attacked like Hacking Team, the press would be outraged.’

By Jimmy Nicholls

It has been a rough month for Hacking Team, an Italian cybersecurity fine that attracted attention after 400GB of its data, including company emails and source code, was leaked online.

Since then a wave of revelations around the firm have spread allegations around potential backdoors, vulnerabilities in programs from Windows, Oracle and Adobe, and a mooted deal between the company and Boeing involving a remote hacking technology.

Until now Hacking Team has been mute on many aspects the data leak, but a statement obtained by CBR has laid out the firm’s response to the past month. Here’s what we learnt:

1. The firm feels maligned by the press

Negative press coverage is rarely welcome at even the most masochistic of companies, but the sort that occurs after a data breach often lays insult upon injury, tarnishing a firm’s reputation.

As well as covering the Hacking Team data leak, many journalists have noted that the company has a history of dealing with unscrupulous governments, including Saudi Arabia, Oman and Lebanon.

Responding to this a company spokesman said: "Commentators dislike the fact that strong tools are needed to fight crime and terrorism, and Hacking Team provides them.

"So the company is being treated as the offender, and the criminals who attacked the company are not. Had a media company been attacked as Hacking Team has been, the press would be outraged."

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2. It stands behind sales to world governments

As mentioned above, Hacking Team has sold spyware to countries criticised by Western governments and nonprofits for their alleged violation of human rights.

Reporters Without Borders, a journalistic nonprofit group, went as far as naming the company one of five "Corporate Enemies of the Internet", alleging that its software can break encryption and turn on microphones and webcams on infected devices.

"Hacking Team has been accused of selling technology to various countries at a time that such sales were banned," the company spokesman said. "This is not true. In the case of every sale, Hacking Team has complied with regulations in effect at the time of the sales."

He added that the firm now complies with updated EU regulations enacted at the start of this year, as well as an international arms treaty known as the Wassenaar Arrangement, which covers Europe, North America and Australia.

3. The company’s products are not weapons

Weapons sales can be banned to certain countries if enough governments decide that it is in their interest to prevent such exports.
However Hacking Team maintains that its technology "has never been categorised as a weapon", an important claim given that it sold product in Sudan in 2012, the country having then been under an arms embargo that persists to this day.

"It is only recently that has Hacking Team technology been categorised under the Wassenaar Arrangement as a ‘dual use technology’ that could be used for both civil and military purposes," the company spokesman said.

"Dual use technologies are regulated separately from weapon technologies."

4. Source code leak was not so damaging

Aside from an email cache that has since been uploaded to WikiLeaks, the most damaging leak for Hacking Team was arguably the source code to its spyware.

At the time of the leak the company said that anybody might be able to pick up and use the software, but since them the situation has changed.

"The criminals [behind this hack] exposed some of our source code to Internet users, but by now the exposed system code is obsolete because of universal ability to detect it," a Hacking Team spokesman said.

Still, according to the firm not everything was lost. "Important elements of our source code were not compromised in this attack, and remain undisclosed and protected," the spokesman said.

5. Backdoor reports are ‘not true’

Some media outlets reported that Hacking Team had put a so-called "backdoor" into its security products that would allow it to monitor clients and even disable the software.

"This is not true," the company spokesman said. "No such backdoors were ever present, and clients have been permitted to examine the source code to reassure themselves of this fact."

Additionally Hacking Team maintains that data relating to investigations taken on behalf of clients did not reside within the security firm’s systems.

"Data from investigations conducted by Hacking Team clients was not exposed during the attack," the spokesman said. "Such information is only maintained on the systems of clients, and cannot be accessed by Hacking Team."

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