Hacking Team returns with encryption cracking tool pitch to customers

Hacking Team is recovering from a crippling cyberattack but is still keen to snare new clients with tools designed to break encryption methods.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer
As law enforcement grumbles over the uptake in encryption services offered by technology firms, Hacking Team is keen to get on in the game and restore its client list through a new set of encryption-breaking tools.

Over the past year, police agencies worldwide, the US FBI complaining the loudest, have been battling the wave of encryption use which has steadily increased in popularity since the disclosure of government surveillance projects made by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Companies including Apple and Google are taking the personal security and privacy more seriously in the post-Snowden era. Google's latest mobile OS, Android L, will offer encryption by default, mirroring and keeping up with Apple's iOS 8 operating system. In retaliation to these movements, the FBI is complaining that encryption will cause terrorist and criminal cases to " go dark," hampering efforts to prevent criminal incidents.

See also: FBI Director: Mobile encryption could lead us to 'very dark place'

This is where Hacking Team comes in. The secretive Milan-based firm provides surveillance tools and spyware to government agencies and law enforcement across the globe. Before this year, the firm's operations and customers were shrouded in mystery, however, everything changed when a hacker known only as Phineas Fisher infiltrated Hacking Team's corporate networks in February and made off with over 400GB of data destined to be dumped online.

The data leak contained emails, exploits and customer lists, leading to a mad scramble by security teams to patch software exploits sold by the company. Hacking Team was also forced to take its Remote Control System (RCS), used to run the spyware, offline as the suite's source code was released.

It is believed that a new version of the suite is on the horizon and some customers are now back online.

See also: Researcher lashes out at Hacking Team over open-source code discovery

Hacking Team isn't finished in the world of surveillance and hacking, however. The Italian firm hopes to capitalize on the rise of encryption by offering tools to take law enforcement out of the dark -- whether technology providers like it or not.

In an email sent to a mailing list of current and potential customers sent on October 19 by Hacking Team CEO David Vincenzetti, Motherboard reports that encryption-breaking software is on the horizon. Within the message, Vincenzetti said:

"Most [law enforcement agencies] in the US and abroad will become 'blind,' they will 'go dark:' they will be simply be [sic] unable to fight vicious phenomena such as terrorism.
Only the private companies can help here, we are one of them."

Adding that "It is crystal clear that the present American administration does not have the stomach to oppose the American IT conglomerates and to approve unpopular, yet totally necessary, regulations," Vincenzetti says that Hacking Team is now finalizing "brand new and totally unprecedented cyber investigation solutions, game changers, to say the least."

It will be interesting to see -- if we do -- what Hacking Team has cooked up. Now the company is on Phineas Fisher's radar, having proved the firm's systems can be breached, however, there's no evidence to support the idea that Hacking Team will be able to come up with encryption-cracking tools suitable for use against modern devices, or even that the company will ever regain its former footing.

In September, Citizen Lab released the results of a new investigation into Gamma Groups' notorious FinFisher spyware, used for surveillance purposes by government agencies worldwide. According to the report, the sophisticated spyware suite -- able to remotely control systems, copy files, intercept Skype calls and log keystrokes -- is used by 32 countries across various agencies including intelligence and police units.

Top gadgets and accessories for hardware and data security

Read on: Top picks

Editorial standards