On the night of March 5, 2011, at the height of the Egyptian revolution of 2011, a group of pro-democracy protesters stormed and ransacked the office of Egypt’s security service.
Inside the offices, the protesters found a strange document: an agreement between the regime of the dictator Hosni Mubarak and the UK surveillance tech company Gamma International to provide spyware known as FinFisher to the country’s spies for a 5-month trial.
The release of that document marked the first time most of the world heard of FinFisher. In the months and years ahead, FinFisher, along with its Italian competitor Hacking Team, would become the poster children for a new kind of surveillance, and a new kind of government contractors. Gone were the days of spies dressed in suits and sunglasses, tailing suspects across cities. Now, the best way for a government to spy on a target was ready-made malicious computer software created by those two companies.
In the years following that fateful ransacking, researchers at Citizen Lab, a digital watchdog at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, uncovered several cases where FinFisher and Hacking Team’s spyware was used by repressive regimes to spy on dissidents, human rights activists and journalists. The researchers even mapped their once-secret clients, revealing the global reach of this new kind of spyware.
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