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Hacking Team CEO insists tools were not compromised

Philip Willan | July 15, 2015
The founder of the Italian surveillance software company that suffered a disastrous data breach last week sought to reassure clients on Tuesday about the gravity of the intrusion, insisting that Hacking Team's anti-terrorism work has not been jeopardized.

In one of the leaked emails, a Hacking Team account manager outlines the advantages of the spyware to Colonel Costanzo Alessandrini of the Vatican police. "Galileo is designed to attack, infect and monitor target PCs and smartphones, in a stealth way," the email says. "It allows you to covertly collect data from the most common desktop operating systems, such as: Windows, OS X, Linux."

The product would also work against Android, iOS, Blackberry and Windows Phone, the salesman claimed. "Once a target is infected, you can access all the information, including: Skype calls, Facebook, WhatsApp, Line, Viber and many more," he said.

Another internal email appears to confirm the existence of a contact with the Vatican: "For Zeron's visit we are thinking of a morning train ride to Milan, with a return that afternoon so he can make his meeting at Vatican on Saturday."

Asked by L'Espresso magazine about the approach from Hacking Team, Alessandrini declined to comment. Given the original Galileo's poor relations with the Vatican, the colonel may have been inclined to reject an offer of spyware named after a man imprisoned for challenging the Catholic Church's view of the cosmos.

Vincenzetti, the Hacking Team CEO, who signs some of his emails with the fascist-era slogan "Boia chi molla" (Never surrender), emerges as a contradictory figure who spent his youth working to protect online privacy and ended up helping oppressive regimes -- in Sudan, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia -- to violate the privacy of their own citizens.

He oscillates between patriotic fervor -- offering to help protect the nation against a growing cyberthreat from Russia -- and entrepreneurial ambition, reportedly selling his software to Kvant, a research institute said to work closely with Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB).

Vincenzetti appears to have been successful in persuading powerful government officials to lobby on his company's behalf. AISE General Antonello Vitale, who worked for the prime minister's office, was one of his supporters, congratulating him last November on overcoming bureaucratic hurdles. "David, I am pleased that everything seems to be heading toward a solution. Aside from our different roles, I think we are all working to protect a technological niche that is as important to the country as bread," the general wrote in an email last November.

Five months earlier, Hacking Team had billed the prime minister's office 33,625 euros (US$37,000) for its "offensive security" product.

It is still unclear who was behind Hacking Team's disastrous hack, with Vincenzetti himself suggesting it could be the work of a well-financed and patient intelligence service or of disgruntled former employees.

An unnamed former colleague told the publication Lettera43.it that the operation must have been a skilled and painstaking one. "I worked in that team and they really are the best," he said. Presenting the hack as though it had been easy was "another slap to damage the reputation of the company even more".

 

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