An article by The Verge on the persecution of Bahraini activists Moosa Abd-Ali Ali, Jaffar Al Hasabi, and Saeed Al-Shehabi features the Citizen Lab’s extensive analysis into FinFisher, a line of remote intrusion and surveillance software developed by Munich-based Gamma International GmbH, conducted by Senior Security Researcher Morgan Marquis-Boire and Research Fellow Bill Marzcak.
The article primarily describes the story of Moosa Abd-Ali Ali,who was assaulted after years of activism in which he documented and criticized the human rights abuses carried out by the Bahraini government. After fleeing the country due to a harrowing incident in which he was brutally beaten outside his home, Abd-Ali arrived in London under asylum. Assuming he was free from the grip of Bahraini authorities and able to carry out his activism in sanctuary, he eased back into his activism worok. However, like many political dissidents in similar circumstances, he found his online information frequently compromised, culminating in an episode where he had logged on to Facebook messenger from his mobile device, and saw a third party sending messages to friends and asking for personal information.
Eventually, news of the hack reached Morgan Marquis-Boire, who at the time, was working as part of a Google team responding to state-sponsored attacks on high-risk users. Marquis-Boire promptly conducted a series of technical analyses on the software used to intrude on Moosa Abd-Ali’s computer and mobile devices. Using this, and other research he was conducting, Marquis-Boire identified the software as FinFisher, as marketed by the British-German firm Gamma Group. The article goes on to cite the Citizen Lab’s reports entitled “The Smartphone Who Loved Me: FinFisher Goes Mobile?” and “You Only Click Twice: FinFisher’s Global Proliferation,” resulting from the analysis that Marquis-Boire undertook.
The article also contains an interview with Bill Marczak, who co-founded Bahrain Watch, a research and advocacy organization aiming to promote accountable governance in Bahrain. Marczak told The Verge that the software is popular amongst governments for its easy accessibility and ability to intrude on the personal lives of dissenters. He said, “The value proposition is essentially: ‘Activists in your country are giving you trouble? Well here’s a product that will allow you to turn their cellphone or computer into basically a wiretap, a surveillance tool, and you can spy on everything they do.” He added that the total number of government customers purchasing FinFisher is likely to have gone up.