Germany’s Federal government has announced it’s new “trojan horse” computer software which will allow it to spy on citizens computers and smartphones.
The German Interior Ministry has formally announced that they have created a new “Bundestrojaner” or government trojan horse software to enable them to track the communications of anyone that downloads it according to the German press, in addition to purchasing an “off the shelf” tool from a company which is said to help authoritarian regimes track their citizens.
Trojan horse software is malicious software (often called malware) that is disguised as something innocent like a free screen saver or game. Once the user opens the file the malicious code infects the target computer, often allowing the person who created it access to all kinds of information like being able to record keystrokes, browse files and more.
The Federal Data Protection Commissioner Andrea Vosshoff has said that the testing of the software has been completed and that it will be used to follow the movements and actions of suspected criminals and others.
The government tried to reassure concerned citizens by saying that the software only has the capacity to monitor communications and not have access to sensitive files. The methods the program would use would be to record the subject’s microphone for telephone or Skype calls, log the key strokes of a computer or mobile device, and access the cameras of any device infected.
Critics of the project say that the government could theoretically gain access to anyone’s computer files, personal sensitive information without the person ever being aware that they had been infected with the malware.
Green Party deputy head Konstantin von Notz said, “We do understand the needs of security officials, but still, in a country under the rule of law, the means don’t justify the end.”
This is not the first time the German government has attempted to create a trojan horse program. In 2011 the government created similar malware in secret without the knowledge of the public. A hacker group called “Chaos Computer Club” discovered the original trojan and leaked its details to the press causing a scandal. The lawyer of the person whose computer was infected by the trojan told the German press the government had planted it on his client’s computer as he was going through customs at Munich airport.
In 2008 the Federal Constitution Court approved the initial project but subjected it to a very limited scope. The judge in the case said that the only thing the trojan should be allowed to view is search terms or communications that indicate a viable danger to the life of a person or their liberty. The trojan was not to be able to access all messages and files on the infected persons computer or mobile device.
FinFisher Gamma-International is the company that has developed the software called FinFisher or FinSpy. They are based in the UK and in Germany and specialise in developing spyware for governments and law enforcement agencies. They have been at the centre of many controversies as oppressive regimes have used their software to spy on potential political critics of their various regimes. Egypt used the software during the Arab spring to crack down on activists critical of the Mubarak regime. Germany also joins countries like Bahrain and Indonesia who are alleged to use the software, according to a report by University of Toronto based Citizen Lab.
Breitbart London has reported on attempts by the German government to silence opposition and critics on social media by threatening 250,000 euro fines and FinFisher could be another tool in their robust electronic surveillance apparatus headed by a former East German Stasi official.