Mozilla may take legal action against company behind FinFisher for masking surveillance virus as Firefox

By End the Lie

From the Gamma group's marketing documents (Image credit: EndtheLie/Wikileaks)

From the Gamma group’s marketing documents (Image credit: EndtheLie/Wikileaks)

Mozilla recently said that they are likely going to take legal action against the Gamma Group, the company behind the FinFisher surveillance virus, for making the malicious software appear to be Firefox.

Mozilla called it “doubly offensive” that FinFisher tricked users into thinking it was actually Firefox, and thus a legitimate application, and plans to issue a cease-and-desist order notice very soon.

“We found what Gamma was doing to be highly offensive,” Alex Fowler, Mozilla’s chief privacy officer, told Ryan Gallagher of Future Tense.

“The trust that people have put into the Mozilla brand, the Firefox brand, is one of our most important assets—it’s what people put a lot of faith in. So for a company using those brands and trademarks in a way that is playing off of that trust and brand to surreptitiously surveil citizens living in countries with repressive regimes—it’s doubly offensive,” Fowler said.

This decision was not made hastily. Indeed, one researcher pointed it out on July 25, 2012 via Twitter, even posting a screenshot demonstrating how FinFisher was masking itself as Firefox.

 

The researcher was Mikko Hypponen, the Chief Research Officer at F-Secure. Hypponen asked at the time, “Could Mozilla sue Gamma Technologies?” The answer very well may be yes.

“We are sending Gamma, the FinFisher parent company, a cease and desist letter demanding that these practices be stopped immediately,” Fowler confirmed in an emailed statement to Gallagher on Monday.

“According to Mozilla, new research that will soon be published will show additional examples of how the FinFisher Trojan is masquerading as Firefox,” Gallagher writes.

Gamma has come under a great deal of fire as of late for their products, including legal action in Britain spearheaded by Privacy International.

In March, Reporters Without Borders put out their 2013 “Enemies of the Internet” report focusing on online surveillance which specifically targeted Gamma International and FinFisher.

Gamma’s products have been linked to attacks on activists and political opposition figures in several countries.

FinFisher’s surveillance Trojans have also been traced to servers running in at least 25 countries, including several with poor human rights records.

However, as I pointed out in the past, these products are also heavily marketed directly to the U.S. government as well.

While Gamma’s spokesman Martin Muench did not respond to Gallagher for comment, Muench has previously claimed that the company cooperates with export agencies in Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Gamma “does not discuss its client base, its exports, or any of the operations which its clients may or may not be undertaking,” Muench wrote Gallagher in an email.

“This is because there is usually a contractual term of confidentiality, and because naming a client can prejudice criminal or counter terror investigations and compromise the security of the members of the police or security services involved,” Muench continued. “Neither will Gamma name any countries which have not purchased its products thereby enabling customer countries to be identified by a process of elimination.”

It remains to be seen how Mozilla will move forward and if any more serious legal action will be taken against Gamma.

Regardless, it is quite encouraging to see this kind of technology being forced into the spotlight – precisely the place companies like Gamma hope it will never be.

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One Response to Mozilla may take legal action against company behind FinFisher for masking surveillance virus as Firefox

  1. Nora May 1, 2013 at 11:26 AM

    Somebody tell us how to detect and remove this malicious surveillance tool!

    Reply

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