PM’s Department didn’t buy spyware, minister says

Minister in charge of parliamentary affairs, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, denied today Prime Minister’s Department had bought any spyware from an Italian foreign firm last year. — Picture by Cinema Online
Minister in charge of parliamentary affairs, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, denied today Prime Minister’s Department had bought any spyware from an Italian foreign firm last year. — Picture by Cinema Online

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 23 — Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said denied today the government had purchased any spyware from an Italian security company in March last year.

The minister in charge of parliamentary affairs had been asked by PKR lawmaker Chua Tian Chang if the Prime Minister’s Department had bought any spyware from the foreign firm last year, following a purported leak in documents between the government and some private vendors that have circulated online.

The Batu MP also sought to know the purpose of such devices, if the government had bought them.

“For your information, no such device was purchased by the Prime Minister’s Department,” Azalina said in her written reply to Chua.

In July, an unidentified hacker, or group of hackers, leaked Hacking Team’s internal documents, source codes and email communications, revealing invoices that showed the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) buying remote control system (RCS) from the online security vendor.

An excerpt of the invoice published in a report by CSO Online listed the PMO as an “Active” client as at March 31 this year, while MACC’s maintenance contract was listed as “Expired” as at January 31 last year.

Invoices contained in the released data, torrented by the hacker that goes by the name Phineas Fisher, linked the company to at least 36 countries around the world.

Aside from Malaysia, the list includes Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, Nigeria, Sudan, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, the US, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Australia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and UAE.

According to Ryan Gallagher, a journalist from US news website The Intercept who specialises in government surveillance, the RCS software allows Hacking Team’s clients to steal photographs and documents from one’s devices, as well as to record audio from Skype or phone calls, copy text and WhatsApp chat messages, and even to turn on the location function on one’s phone.

The Barisan Nasional government’s purported purchase of spyware is not new as Putrajaya was reported back in 2013 as using another surveillance software, known as FinSpy, that security researchers believed was more likely used against political targets than criminals.

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