CyberWarfare, Uncategorized

Cyber Warfare tools in the hands of Biya, activists, journalists targeted?

This is a developing story which we will update if new information becomes available

Unconfirmed reports tell us that the Cameroon regime led by President Paul Biya is using Cyber security tools like FinFisher’s FinSpy to target civilians who are having a critical position against the Francophone regime and / or support the secession of the Anglophone provinces.

As much as there is no proof yet to such allegations, it is publicly known neighbouring countries Gabon and Nigeria did in the past acquire such tools and currently have them available. [1].There is no technical reason as to why Gabon for instance could not share the toolkit with its neighbouring country

FF
Citizen Lab in 2015 did an extensive search on servers where FinFisher could be linked to, and came back with these verified results.

The functionality of the FinSpy suite includes the collection of address book information, calendar and phone call records; collection of files, screen captures, and photos, monitoring geolocation, surreptitious eavesdropping through enabling the victim’s microphone or placing hidden calls; as well as collecting communications and media, files from messenger apps like Line, WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram, Skype, Facebook, Messenger, Kakao, and WeChat[2]

Gamma International / Lench IT, the company behind FinFisher says in a product brochure on FinSpy, published in 2014 the following: [3]

FinSpy has been proven successful in operations around the world since many years and valuable intelligence has been acquired about Target Individuals and Organizations.
When FinSpy is installed on a computer system or mobile phone it can beremotely controlled and accessed as soon as it is connected to the internet/network, no matter where in the world the Target System is based.

Usage Example 1: Intelligence Agency

FinSpy was installed on several computer systems inside Internet Café’s in critical areas in order to monitor them for suspicious activity, especially Skype communication to foreign individuals. Using the Webcam, pictures of the Targets were done while they were using the system.

Usage Example 2: Organized Crime

FinSpy was covertly deployed on the mobile phones of several members of an Organized Crime Group. Using the GPS trackingdata and silent calls, essential information could be gathered from every meeting that was done by this group.
As many of us could argue such tools can be useful in the hands of legitimate and democratic governments to assure the safety of their citizens and protect them against organised crime or terrorism, this argument becomes harder to defend if these tools enter the hands of dictators who most surely will primarily use them against political opponents without any democratic or legal oversight.
Even more worryingly is a statement in this same brochure claiming that as of 2014, a new feature is capable of stealing the private PGP key of breached individuals rendering anonymous communication of activists and Journalists impossible.
Of course this would greatly play in the cards of the users of such spyware because international media depend on reliable sources on the ground for their reporting.
With respect to this, an apparent statement from Peter Essoka on July 12th, who is in charge of Camerouns Conseil National de la Communication (CNC) the overseeing body of all media outlets and Journalists active in Cameroon, according to certain news sites, being cited as stating:
Screen Shot 2018-07-19 at 12.17.31
This is a rather open threat to Journalists reporting on atrocities committed by the military of Cameroon.
Another toolset made available to customers is FinSpy Mobile, with interesting features as well according to their brochure:
FinSpy Mobile has been giving successful results to Government Agencies who gather information remotely from Target Mobile Phones.
When FinSpy Mobile is installed on a mobile phone it can be remotely controlled and monitored no matter where in the world the Target is located.

Usage Example 1: Intelligence Agency

FinSpy Mobile was deployed on BlackBerry mobile phones of several Targets to monitor all communications, including SMS/MMS, Email and BlackBerry Messenger.

Usage Example 2: Organized Crime

FinSpy Mobile was covertly deployed on the mobile phones of several members of an Organized Crime Group(OCG). Using the GPS tracking data and silent calls, essential information could be gathered from every meeting that was heldby this group.
With such a toolset, which we know is available to two neighbouring countries namely Gabon and Nigeria, it would be very easy for any individual of an oppressive regime to target any (suspected) opposition member or, in case of unregistered SIM, simply knowing the (rough) location of a person or group of persons. This could explain the setting ablaze of houses and areas as recently seen.

Another pointer towards the Cameroon government at least being very aware of the possibilities of tracking user behaviour is the fact that they are already  since at least 2013 in possession of BlueCoat devices on their public network, as discovered byCitizenLab[4]

While these BlueCoat appliances themselves are designed to do Deep Packet Inspection if traffic over the net, to quickly see who is using which application and mainly used to enforce company policy rules on web-access, the use by oppressive governments to cut certain areas off Internet and check who uses which application for what without democratic oversight is a different issue.
It would be a very positive move if the international community would put pressure on Gamma International / Lench IT to stop providing these tools and / or support to dubious regimes which could use it to oppress its own people.

[1] https://citizenlab.ca/2015/10/mapping-finfishers-continuing-proliferation/

[2] https://www.accessnow.org/cms/assets/uploads/2018/05/FinFisher-changes-tactics-to-hook-critics-AN.pdf

[3]https://wikileaks.org/spyfiles4/database.html#product_1[3]https://wikileaks.org/spyfiles4/database.html#product_1

[4]https://citizenlab.ca/storage/bluecoat/CitLab-PlanetBlueCoatRedux-FINAL.pdf

 

 

Political, Uncategorized

The Crisis in Cameroon is finally making its way to the EU Commission

Over the past months, I have been surprised many times on how little is being reported in International media concerning the aggressions in Southern Cameroon provinces.

There were some articles in The Guardian but things seemed to halt there. Even those articles seemed to mainly make their way to those impacted and not really to the desk of politicians. I have quizzed a number of politicians (and journalists) I happened to know or got in touch with and most were not aware of any “situation” in the Southern Cameroons. Specifically the absence of articles in (usually quite comprehensive reporting) outlets like BBC, Africa News, Deutsche Welle and RFI was notable.

All compelling evidence submitted to ACMP and it’s members however was in our opinion definitely warranting political attention, so we actively pursued journalists on this matter. The reality unfortunately is that usually politicians act based on international attention in the media. Absence of this makes it hard for politicians in their usually full agenda to act, basically because of lack of awareness.

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The EU might play a vital role in getting the situation in Southern Cameroons on the international agenda.

In this situation that was also the case, and when I alerted my political contacts at EU level, most were not even aware of any issue in Cameroon. The last known status was the internet blockage of beginning last year.  When I met with Hilde Vautmans, who is member of the Foreign Committee and has a passion for Africa. She also acted as president of the Rwanda commission and therefor perfectly positioned to have an opinion un this matter.

Luckily, all efforts were not in vain and EU Parliamentarian Hilde Vautmans (ALDE) has asked written questions to the Foreign affairs commission of the EU, EEAS headed by Federica Mogherini.

Federica_Mogherini_Official
EU Commissioner responsible for EEAS, Federica Mogherini

The following questions were raised:

Clashes between insurgents and government forces for a breakaway republic in Cameroon’s English-speaking region have recently intensified.

The conflict began following peaceful protests by Anglophone teachers, who felt discriminated against. Anglophones, who make up 20% of Cameroon’s 23-million population, have over time felt marginalised in the socio-cultural, political and economic spheres by the Francophone-dominated government.

The separatist forces capitalised on the teachers’ protest, and stepped up pressure on the government, which responded to the crisis with counter-insurgency operations. While most Anglophones simply wished that their grievances be addressed, the more radical factions have called for independence for the self-declared state of Ambazonia. The security forces responded violently to these protests, killing scores of people and displacing 160 000.

What is the VP/HR’s position on the intercommunal violence in Cameroon, and what has been done so far in response?

What specific steps does the European External Action Service plan to take to alleviate the tensions in Cameroon and move towards a peaceful resolution?

According to some reports, FinFisher surveillance software, which was produced by European companies, was used by the Cameroonian Government to target the opposition. How will the VP/HR counter the indirect export of such cyber tools to Cameroon?

We now have to wait for the official answers from EEAS, and will update this story when they get available.

Uncategorized

Southern Cameroons struggle enters a new phase

Last week the world witnessed a horrendous video showing apparent military of La Republique Cameroun (The official army of the state of Cameroon) and / or affiliated militia, executing unarmed women and children in the Northern state of Cameroon.

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A still from the horrendous video alledgedly showing Cameroon Military executing children in Northern Cameroon.

This hideous act shocked the world and that might be the silver lining on a dark cloud looming over this Central African country. This video finally made its way to the international media, unlike a lot of other videos and footage recently shot from the English speaking Northwest and Southwest Provinces in Cameroon. There, the Cameroun army also is witnessed committing crimes against humanity and over the past years, the atmosphere in this part of Cameroon has gradually fallen into a civil-war like status. A good part of this English speaking population is no longer accepting being ruled by the French speaking majority in this country, and have called for the installation of an independent nation, they call Ambazonia.

The English speaking opposition in these two provinces have for log been oppressed and chased by the official Government of Cameroon, headed by long ruling president Paul Biya, who recently announced wanting to extend his reign for another 5 years in this years election.

Yesterday, the French celebrated Quatorze Juilliet, its National Holiday commemorating the storming of the Bastille which is by the French seen as the birthday of the Nation in its current form.

Many Ambazonians consider France to be an accomplice in these atrocities, either actively through supply of military equipment and assistance (even in the form of French Military being deployed in Cameroon) but at least passively by not openly condemning the atrocities. Truth is that many French news outlets have focussed on the official communication of the French Speaking Cameroon government, who accuse the English speaking part of the country to kill its military and police officers ( https://www.ouest-france.fr/monde/cameroun/crise-au-cameroun-81-militaires-et-policiers-tues-dans-les-regions-anglophones-5836236 ) and hardly spent a word on the opposite side of the story, its age long oppression and marginalisation of the English speaking community.

Ambazonians have taken the opportunity of the French National Holiday to start a political cleansing of its own, enforcing a deadline on all political representatives from the Anglophone regions to officially resign their positions or on refusal of this, being seen as a terrorist against the state of Ambazonia. (https://www.facebook.com/100002251434436/posts/1752023348216029/ ).Untitled

 

As much as such a request was expected, and one can see the reasoning behind it, the sheer wording of it brings possibilities which can be compared to abhorrent historical events where cleansing of certain groups of people were made subject to any form of violence apparently condoned by the institutions. We are as we speak still tracing down its origin and legitimacy. UPDATE: we received official response from the Interim Government that this post is NOT endorsed by them; “This is not official, No official information from any of the liberation movements, it happens to be one of those random posts.” However, it is also acknowledged: “some guerrilla commanders met in Kumba and issued this ultimatum“.

Looking forward, one can only fear what will happen in the coming weeks. Will this call for action be followed by all MP’s and Senators? And if not what will happen to those not complying? One thing is sure, this action, if supported by the shadow government of Ambazonia, is definitely making any political and diplomatic solution harder. There will after this ultimatum, no longer be any political representation of Ambazonia in the Cameroon government. Bloodshed will likely intensify, and the possible execution of their own political representatives only obfuscates an already (for foreighn observers) very diffuse situation. This will give the Cameroon official government even more ammunition to throw accusations to the Ambazonians, which in the short term not help their cause. A more diplomatic approach to this situation would have been way more preferable, but diplomacy seems to have left Cameroon already for some time.

Update: This post seems to be the work of someone independent and not speaking on behalf of the Interim Government of Ambazonia. This is good news, since it at least does not show any sign of violent and escalating approach from the Interim Government itself. However, this post quickly made its way through different networks and therefor its destructive power is not any less. People can act simply believing this is a true statement from an authority, leading to further escalations. It would be good if the Interim Government could therefor quickly disarm such posts by denying their support.