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Alba Iulia
Saturday, April 17, 2021

More African countries are relying on an Israeli surveillance tool to snoop on private citizens

Columns More African countries are relying on an Israeli surveillance tool to snoop...

As African governments crack down on protestors and opposition leaders in countries such as Nigeria and Uganda, it is emerging that state security agencies in seven regional countries are among 25 around the world using an Israeli surveillance platform to snoop on private communications of citizens.

A new report names Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco, and Zambia as the African countries that have been employing Circles’ surveillance platforms to exploit flaws in telecoms systems and to access telephone calls, SMS messages and location services.

The report by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab titled Running in Circles: Uncovering the Clients of Cyberespionage Firm Circles offers new perspectives detailing how the telecom surveillance company, Circles has deployed its platforms across Africa, helping state security departments to snoop on communications of opposition politicians, journalists, and protestors.

It’s worth noting Circles is said to be affiliated with Tel Aviv-based NSO Group, which became globally known last year for the Pegasus spyware scandal after it was reported to have been used to exploit a vulnerability in the popular WhatsApp app to spy opposition organizers in several countries.

One such example is Botswana, where Citizen Lab has detailed how the Directorate for Intelligence and Security’s domain was used to identify two snooping systems linked to Circles platforms. This was undertaken through cryptographic TLS certificates signed under “CN=sid.org.bw” which is a domain name linked to the country’s state security and defense department. The targets for this surveillance seemed to have been media houses, journalists, and their sources in cases involving corruption by politicians.

The outbreak of EndSARS protests in Nigeria, where young citizens demonstrated peacefully against the heavy-handed and violent nature of the now-disbanded SARS police unit, triggered a deadly state security crackdown on protestors features followed by various attempts by the government to infiltrate and undermine protest organizers. This is not new, Front Line Defenders had already concluded in a 2018 report that that the Nigerian government “has conducted mass surveillance of citizens’ telecommunications.”

But it’s not just the countries facing protests that are resorting to surveillance of private communications of citizens. In Zambia, for example, there is a entire cyber-surveillance unit in the office of the country’s telecommunications regulator. As in Uganda more recently, Zambia and several other African countries have relied on a mix of Chinese-bought facial recognition and digital surveillance tools from companies including Huawei and Cloudwalk.

As internet penetration and smartphone usage increases with young Africans, social media has become more influential for organizing civil society and opposition movements across Africa. This has led to several governments shutting down the internet or blocking social media apps especially around elections and protests. But given the economic cost of shutdowns and widespread criticism, covert surveillance of digital footprints may now be seen as a more effective option.

Hiding behind code names or completely operating behind anonymous domains is an emerging trend for African state departments undertaking covert surveillance of private citizens as there was an unidentified client using Circles’ platform in Zimbabwe, in addition to another client going by the code name “Zagato Zeus”. Another client, Zimbabwe Telcel has also been identified as having relied on Circles’ platform for surveillance of private telecommunications in the southern African country.

Equatorial Guinea, which has previously shut down the internet, also had an anonymous client using surveillance systems while Telco Kali Rainbow was identified as being behind usage of a surveillance system geo-located to Mauritius but traced back to IP addresses in Kenya.

As surveillance of private citizens’ communications increases across Africa, there are fresh worries that telecom companies are not yet adequately geared to deal with this trend.

“Abuse of the global telephone system for tracking and monitoring is believed to be widespread, however it is difficult to investigate,” notes Citizen Lab in its report. “Meanwhile, cellular carriers have many technical difficulties identifying and blocking abuses of their infrastructure.”

Source: Quartz Africa

11 COMMENTS

  1. News created by angry opposition parties in Africa. It hurts to be in opposition but just sell our message and convince people why they should choose you. We have all been in opposition at some point. Every party starts in opposition. Grow up

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  2. When MMD brought equipment to eavesdrop on phone conversations within a radius of 300km from the Red Brick they thought it would keep RB in power. Whatever they do Edgar will celebrate his last Christmas as President this year for next year we’ll show him the way to Chawama

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  3. Instead of using surveillance to gather intelligence on other countries in the west and east that would help the countries to strategically position themselves in the world of commerce, economics, diplomacy and science which would advance their national interests. They waste resources on their citizens just to keep the incompetent leaders in power.

  4. For Isreal, they are just doing business with scared men who work the corridors of power in Africa. Zambia is depriving its citizens many things while a lot of money goes to keep its none caring leaders in power through surveillance and other draconian tactics. Isreal is benefiting financially from these governments’ power hungry politicians.

  5. Israel is a master of oppression. Such operations fall within its crazy beliefs. Israel has always been oppressive since it was formed. That’s why it supported the apartheid regime because this boer regime subscribed to the thought that racial superiority is divine and blessed by God. You can see how this fits into Israeli racial supremacism theories. The Israelies believe in race supremacism and think they are the chosen race . They paint the pucture that god only speaks to them no one else.
    Africans who believe in their own God or gods are therefore a potential enemy of Zionism. Zionism is the belief that a certain race namely jews is superior to all others and that is why this grouping or race has a connection to God or the supreme being that no other has.
    Most Africans swallow…

  6. To rule, you need power. To have power you need to know secrets. The Roman Catholic church ruled because it knew secrets through confessions . States must know secrets too. The citizens cannot confess so the state snoops. Once upon a time it used thousands of intelligence officers, now it uses technology.

  7. They have failed to gather intelligence on terrorist and other criminal groups but they’re able to snoop on private citizens who are not involved in criminal activity. Why spy on citizens who hv committed no crime? So they want to listen in as I ask if it has rained in Kapiri Mposhi? Wht intelligence value is in such information? No wonder criminal groups are operating freely in Zambia. There’s no intelligence keeping an eye on wht they’re up to.

  8. Systems perfected by the oppression and brutalities on the Palestinians…….

    Lungu needs such systems to keep him in power

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