Privacy International’s (PI) recently released report, titled “The President’s Men?,” explores the role of Egypt’s Technical Research Department (TRD), a secret unit in the country’s intelligence infrastructure. In the report, PI sheds light on the capabilities of the TRD, by tracing their use of Nokia Siemens Networks and Hacking Team technologies, as well as FinFisher spyware.
Despite its dissolution in 2011 after being thought responsible for human rights violations under the Mubarak Government, the National Security Service (NSS) was restored in 2013 by the interim government of Adly Mansour. The NSS is the most internationally recognized Egyptian intelligence agency, and is in contrast to the TRD, which PI note has never been publicly avowed by the Egyptian government, remaining largely secretive.
Hacking Team is thought to have produced the TRD’s Remote Control System (RCS) malware, used to grant total control of the target computer. This allows access to any content stored on it, monitor the use of the computer real time, the ability to log keystrokes, and even activate the webcam. PI cite Citizen Lab research report “Hacking Team and the Targeting of Ethiopian Journalists” as indication of the use of RCS against journalists and activists by government agencies, often with poor human rights records. Also in October 2015, Citizen Lab revealed the use of FinFisher spyware by the TRD, in the report entitled “Pay No Attention to the Server Behind the Proxy: Mapping FinFisher’s Continuing Proliferation.” TRD IP addresses were found to be behind documents embedded with FinFisher malware, among other cases.