In Summary
  • Recently passed laws state the agency has to seek court permission to monitor or intercept information.
  • Emails exchanged between spy agency and the Singapore-based company show they wanted to bring down anti-government sites.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) may have acquired a stealth surveillance system from controversial Italian-based company, Hacking Team, to intercept private communication and bring down websites deemed offensive to the government.

According to a trove of e-mails released by WikiLeaks — an online whistleblower that publishes secret information largely exposing government and corporate misconduct — the spy system enables NIS unfettered access to people’s information, infect and monitor computers and smartphones.

Hacking Team has been facing criticism from privacy campaigners for supplying surveillance software to some of the world’s most oppressive regimes.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka declined to comment on the matter.

The system is “designed to attack, infect and monitor target PCs and smartphones in a stealth way,” according to emails between a representative of the Hacking Team based in Singapore — described as a “key account manager in charge of your country (Kenya)” — and a supposed NIS operative in Nairobi on April 27.

“It allows you to covertly collect data from the most common desktop operating systems, such as: Windows OS, Linux. Furthermore, Remote Control System can monitor all modern smartphones: Android OS, Blackberry, Windows Phone. Once a target is infected, you can access all the information, including: Skype calls, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Line, Viber and many more. To protect your operations, resistance and invisibility to the major endpoint protection systems is integral to the solution,” the company’s representative further states.

GREAT PROOF

According to the e-mails, Hacking Team is headquartered in Milan, Italy, but has offices in Singapore and Washington DC.

To test the efficacy of the system, NIS had on May 6 emailed Hacking Team to bring down Kahawa Tungu, a website associated with controversial blogger Robert Alai “as a great proof” of the company’s capability. 

“There is a website we would wish you urgently bring down, either by defacement or by making it completely inaccessible… Please let me know if this is possible, and how soon you can have it done,” the NIS operative tells the Hacking Team representative.   

Additionally, the system would enable the NIS to access documents from target computers even if they have not been sent to another device through the internet. It would also monitor the social networks of targeted people without them knowing.

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