Screenshot from a promotional video by Hacking Team.
By Drew Atkins
A digital tool to monitor “all the devices,” whether they be smartphones or laptop computers. One that is “invisible to the user, evades antivirus and firewalls, and doesn’t affect the devices’ performance or battery life.” Leaked documents indicate the maker of this “hacking suite for governmental interception” has been in contact with law enforcement organizations across the Northwest in recent months: the police departments of Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, and Eugene, and the sheriff’s offices in King and Pierce counties.
The tool in question is named Galileo, and is made by Hacking Team, a company based in Milan, Italy. The company specializes in “Remote Control Systems” – essentially malicious and sophisticated computer viruses – that infiltrate smartphones and computers and allow law enforcement to secretly monitor and control the devices, including activation of their cameras and microphones. The RCS can be implanted through such means as email, a simple USB stick, or cooperative telecom companies.
According to a series of in-depth reports released last year by Citizen Lab – a research project housed at the University of Toronto – Hacking Team sells these tools to law enforcement and spy organizations across the U.S. and the world. The report also indicates the company’s products have been used to target dozens of journalists and activists.
Documents released by Wikileaks this month, consisting of over one million internal emails from the company’s servers, include the contact information for specific officers in regional law enforcement. Our review of the emails has found no indication that local departments have purchased Hacking Team’s services. However, the presence of these officers on the firm’s contact list – as well as the likely reasons they're on it – provides a glimpse at how domestic law enforcement is seeking to understand and potentially utilize the tools of computer hackers.
Drew Atkins is a journalist and writer in Seattle, and the recipient of numerous national and regional awards. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Seattle Times, The Oregonian, InvestigateWest, Geekwire, Seattle Magazine, and others. He also previously served as the managing editor of Crosscut. He can be contacted at email@example.com.