Israel-based Cellebrite is one of the companies cited in a report about the threat of digital surveillance technology being sold by Western companies.  Among its clients are the Seattle Police, Russia and China. (Source: Cellebrite video)

Report: Western Companies Are Selling Sensitive Surveillance Tech to Repressive Regimes

A story on MIT’s paints a dark picture of how Western-based companies are aiding bad actors and corrupt governments by selling cyber surveillance products with no oversight or accountability, according to a report by the U.S.-based think tank the Atlantic Council.

Here’s an excerpt from the report:

“The resulting dataset shows that there are multiple firms headquartered in Europe and the Middle East that the authors assess, with high confidence, are marketing cyber interception/intrusion capabilities to US/NATO adversaries. They assume that companies offering interception/intrusion capabilities pose the greatest risk, both by bolstering oppressive regimes and by the proliferation of strategic capabilities.2 Many such firms congregate at Milipol France, Security & Policing UK, and other arms fairs in the UK, Germany, Singapore, Israel, and Qatar.”

Even more chilling, the report finds that 75% of the companies are selling outside of their countries, including these “five irresponsible proliferators”—BTT, Cellebrite, Micro Systemation AB, Verint, and Vastech—who have sold technologies to China and Russia over the last 10 years.

The story summarizes the data used for the report, which is based on 20 years of data collected from the largest cyber trade show, ISS World and arms fairs.

“Its authors examined 224 surveillance companies present at these shows, looked at their marketing material, examined where in the world they advertised their products, and detailed the known sales of surveillance and hacking tools.”

One horrifying example is Israel’s Cellebrite, a phone hacking and forensics tools developer that sells around the world to countries including the US, Russia, and China. The company has been criticized for its role during China’s crackdown in Hong Kong and the discovery that its technology was being used by a Bangladeshi “death squad.”

U.S. companies are not exempt, either.

“The report points to the recent indictment of former U.S. intelligence personnel who had been working for the United Arab Emirates as evidence that capabilities first developed by friendly governments can end up being used for other spying purposes. The hacking tools and expertise developed by U.S. agencies were then used by the UAE to spy on hundreds of targets, including Americans.”

The U.N. is exploring developing oversight of such companies and establishing rules.