Bloomberg News

German ‘Trojan’ Spyware Violates Constitution, Hackers Say

October 10, 2011

(Updates with government comments in third paragraph.)

Oct. 10 (Bloomberg) -- The German government is using spying software that violates the country’s constitutional law because it contains functions beyond the interception of Internet-based communication, a hacker organization said.

The malware, once installed on a computer, can receive software and remotely execute it, the Chaos Computer Club said. It can also be used to control hardware such as microphones and cameras for room surveillance as well as upload falsified evidence to the target hard drive, said Hamburg-based CCC, which calls itself Europe’s largest hacker group.

The Federal Interior Ministry and its units did not employ the software examined by the CCC, ministry spokesman Markus Beyer said at a routine press conference today in Berlin. “That’s what is decisive for us,” said Beyer. He added that the software is “freely available” and three years old, while declining to say whether the software was designed by or for the government.

In 2008, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court ruled that the secret infiltration of information technology systems is a grave encroachment on civil rights and can only be justified in some criminal investigations. The court laid out strict legal limitations for such probes.

“This refutes the claim that an effective separation of just wiretapping Internet technology and a full-blown trojan is possible in practice -- or even desired,” the hacker club said. “Functions clearly intended for breaking the law were implemented in this malware.”

A trojan is a software program that appears benign but performs functions that can be harmful to a computer user’s system. Unlike viruses, trojans don’t make copies of themselves.

Probe Called

The German government takes allegations about illegal surveillance software used by investigative authorities “very seriously” and will examine the claims at every level of its operations, chief government spokesman Steffen Seibert said at the same press conference today.

“The government values and defends the privacy of citizens also in the digital world,” Seibert said.

The Free Democratic Party, coalition partner of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party, called yesterday for an investigation and a ban on the use of the software until the allegations are cleared.

The spy software contains security weaknesses that make it possible for third parties to control the target computer once the trojan is installed, the CCC said. As part of an effort to conceal the source of the attack, all data is routed through a data center in the U.S., which could violate “a fundamental principle of national sovereignty,” according to the CCC.

“It would be a very grave incident and clearly against the law should the allegation be accurate,” Wolfgang Bosbach, chairman of the German parliament’s interior-affairs committee and a member of Merkel’s party, told the public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk radio today.

--With assistance from Rainer Buergin, Patrick Donahue and Karin Matussek in Berlin. Editors: Kenneth Wong, Robert Valpuesta

To contact the reporters on this story: Cornelius Rahn in Frankfurt at crahn2@bloomberg.net; Brian Parkin in Berlin at bparkin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kenneth Wong in Berlin at kwong11@bloomberg.net


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