Toronto-based human rights watchdog documents how Cyberbit software infected targets’ computers; company insists it’s not responsible for how its products are used
A surveillance system sold by a unit of Israel’s Elbit Systems Ltd. was used by the Ethiopian government to carry out digital espionage against journalists, activists and other entities, a Toronto-based human rights watchdog called The Citizen Lab wrote in a report.
The report, released Tuesday, describes how Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries received emails containing
sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins. A US-based Ethiopian diaspora media outlet,
the Oromia Media Network (OMN), was targeted, as were a PhD student and a lawyer, the report said, which noted that during the course of the investigation
one of the authors of The Citizen Lab report was also targeted.
The attacks were “apparently” carried out by Ethiopia, the report said.
The Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto that
focuses on research, development, and strategic policy regarding the impact of information and communication technologies on human rights.
The spyware in question is a commercial product known as PC Surveillance System sold by cybersecurity firm Cyberbit and marketed to
intelligence and law enforcement agencies, the report said.
Elbit acquired Cyberbit from Nice Systems Ltd. in 2015 and the firm has offices in the US, Europe and Singapore.
Elbit develops and sells cybersecurity and cyber-intelligence products to and for governments, the military, businesses, academia, and critical infrastructures, among others.
The products incorporate a mix of machine learning, big data, graph-based malware analysis, and other
technological features that help detect, analyze, and respond to advanced cybersecurity threats.