We’re publishing in full, for the first time, manuals explaining the prominent commercial implant software “Remote Control System,” manufactured by the Italian company Hacking Team. Despite FBI director James Comey’s dire warnings about the impact of widespread data scrambling — “criminals and terrorists would like nothing more,” he declared — Hacking Team explicitly promises on its website that its software can “defeat encryption.”
The manuals describe Hacking Team’s software for government technicians and analysts, showing how it can activate cameras, exfiltrate emails, record Skype calls, log typing, and collect passwords on targeted devices. They also catalog a range of pre-bottled techniques for infecting those devices using wifi networks, USB sticks, streaming video, and email attachments to deliver viral installers. With a few clicks of a mouse, even a lightly trained technician can build a software agent that can infect and monitor a device, then upload captured data at unobtrusive times using a stealthy network of proxy servers, all without leaving a trace. That, at least, is what Hacking Team’s manuals claim as the company tries to distinguish its offerings in the global marketplace for government hacking software.
Hacking Team’s efforts include a visible push into the U.S. Though Remote Control System is sold around the world — suspected clients include small governments in dozens of countries, from Ethiopia to Kazakhstan to Saudi Arabia to Mexico to Oman — the company keeps one of its three listed worldwide offices in Annapolis, Maryland, on the edge of the federal intelligence and law-enforcement cluster around the nation’s capital; has sent representatives to American homeland security trade shows and conferences, where it has led training seminars like “Cyber Intelligence Solutions to Data Encryption” for police; and has even taken an investment from a firm headed by America’s former ambassador to Italy. The United States is also, according to two separate research teams, far and away Hacking Team’s top nexus for servers, hosting upwards of 100 such systems, roughly a fifth of all its servers globally.