|Hacking Team may not have any clients in the US yet, but it’s not for lack of trying.
In 2001, a pair of Italian programmers wrote a program called Ettercap, a “comprehensive suite for man-in-the-middle attacks” — in other words, a set of tools for eavesdropping, sniffing passwords, and remotely manipulating someone’s computer. Ettercap was free, open source, and quickly became the weapon of choice for analysts testing the security of their networks as well as hackers who wanted to spy on people. One user called it “sort of the Swiss army knife” of this type of hacking.
Ettercap was so powerful that its authors, ALoR and NaGA, eventually got a call from the Milan police department. But the cops didn’t want to bust the programmers for enabling hacker attacks. They wanted to use Ettercap to spy on citizens. Specifically, they wanted ALoR and NaGA to write a Windows driver that would enable them to listen in to a target’s Skype calls.
That’s how a small tech security consultancy ended up transforming into one of the first sellers of commercial hacking software to the police. ALoR’s real name is Alberto Ornaghi and NaGA is Marco Valleri. Their Milan-based company, Hacking Team, now has 40 employees and sells commercial hacking software to law enforcement in “several dozen countries” on “six continents.”
Today, Hacking Team’s flagship product, Da Vinci, enables law enforcement at federal, state, or local levels to collect heaps more data than the National Security Agency’s controversial PRISM program is reportedly capable of gathering. With Da Vinci, the police can monitor a suspect’s cell phone conversations, emails, and Skype calls, and even spy on the target through his or her webcam and microphone. It’s as if the investigator were standing behind a suspect using their computer.