May 4, 2013

Developer sued by Mozilla for passing off espionage spyware as Firefox

The Mozilla Foundation is suing a British web surveillance company, alleging that it is trying to pass off its programs as Firefox products.

FinFisher, a suite of espionage viruses and malwares that is used by governments around the world, is a product from a British-German firm called Gamma International. According to AP, the makers of the Firefox browser believe that Gamma has been passing off its malware as Firefox products to trick people into installing it.

Clearly, anything that masquerades as Firefox -- but which actually lets the government spy on you -- is going to damage customer perception of the browser as a product that can be trusted.

The FinFisher malware can be used to spy on what a user is doing on their computer, including logging keystrokes, intercepting data communications and surreptitiously recording footage from a webcam or microphone. It's a suite of tools that's proven equally attractive to law enforcement officials gathering evidence of web crime and to dictatorial regimes that want to crack down on dissidents.

The University of Toronto's Citizen Lab has found evidence of FinFisher's use in 36 different countries around the world. Its latest report on its use came out on 30 April, detailing the most recent 11 nations to have made use of its services -- including South Africa, Nigeria, Romania and Pakistan.

Documents uncovered in the wake of the overthrow of Egypt's Mubarak regime in 2011 showed that Gamma had offered its products, while evidence has also been found of it being used to keep track of opposition politicians in Ethiopia. A company selling a product that imitates another product for the purposes of human rights violations is, understandably, infuriating for Firefox's makers.

Alex Fowler of the Mozilla Foundation said that it is "sending Gamma, the FinFisher parent company, a cease and desist letter demanding that these practices be stopped immediately".

Firefox is currently the second most-popular desktop web browser, with 28.5 percent of the global market share, behind Chrome with 51.7 percent.


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