Security expert and hacker Morgan Marquis-Boire spends his days researching the shady underworld of government surveillance. Here he explains how governments are using malicious computer code to spy on journalists and human rights activists across the world.
What is spyware and how is it different to malware?
Broadly, malware is malicious code that does something harmful or undesirable on a user’s system that runs without their consent. Most people will be familiar with the concept of viruses, trojans, crimeware and even ransomware, which encrypts your data and tries to ‘ransom’ it back to you.
Over the last few years there has been a rise in awareness of malware used for surveillance, or spyware. This is software installed on a victim’s computer by state actors, spies and police, rather than cyber criminals. It gives them access to the victim’s online communications and, as so much of our lives is now online, this is where most state surveillance now occurs.
How much can they see?
It depends on what you do on the device that has been compromised. For example, as mobile phones have become less about making phone calls and more about general online communication, we’ve seen a corresponding market for so-called ‘lawful intercept’ mobile spyware. If you have this type of software surreptitiously installed on your phone it allows people to track your location via GPS, access your contacts list, spy on your SMS messaging, record your phone calls, see what you’re talking about on Facebook chat and more.
Spyware on your phone allows people to track your location via GPS, access your contacts list, spy on your SMS messaging and record your calls.
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