Italian Surveillance Firm’s Breach Puts Spies in Hot Seat

A dramatic breach at an Italian surveillance company has laid bare the details of government cyberattacks worldwide, putting intelligence chiefs in the hot seat from Cyprus to South Korea. The massive leak has already led to one spymaster's resignation -- and pulled back the curtain on espionage in the iPhone age.

More than 1 million emails released online in the wake of the July 5 breach show that Hacking Team sold its spy software to the FBI and to Russian intelligence. It worked with authoritarian governments in the Middle East and pitched to police departments in the American suburbs. It even tried to sell to the Vatican -- all while devising a malicious Bible app to infect religiously minded targets.

"It's a mini-Snowden event," said Israel-based security researcher Tal Be'ery, likening the impact of the leak to the publication of top secret NSA documents by former intelligence worker Edward Snowden.

Like others, Be'ery long suspected the world's security agencies of hacking, but he said he was struck by "the ubiquity of it -- used on all continents, by both democracies and dictatorships."

Invoices from Sudan's intelligence service and a Russian arms conglomerate have critics -- including a European parliamentarian -- asking whether the company flouted international sanctions. A client list that includes Uzbekistan, Egypt and Azerbaijan has reinforced worries from groups such as Privacy International that the spyware is being used to silence dissidents. And 'we-love-your-stuff' emails from sheriffs, police and prosecutors across the United States suggest local law enforcement is eager to give the program a test drive.

Hacking Team's spyware was used by a total of 97 intelligence or investigative agencies in 35 countries, according to South Korean National Intelligence Service chief Lee Byoung Ho, who explained himself to lawmakers Tuesday after it became clear his organization was among the Milan-based company's clients.

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