Since the weekend Germany has been rocked by allegations that state officials have been infecting computers with trojan viruses in order to monitor online activity.The news first came to light on Saturday when the “Chaos Computer Club” (CCC), which claims to be Europe’s largest hackers’ club, published a lengthy article on its blog detailing how governments were using trojan viruses or spyware illegally.
The CCC wrote:
The malware can not only siphon away intimate data but also offers a remote control or backdoor functionality for uploading and executing arbitrary other programs. Significant design and implementation flaws make all of the functionality available to anyone on the internet.
According to the CCC, the program went far beyond the legal, though controversial, “Bundestrojan” (“federal Trojan”) programs that can be used by the German government to listen into online phone calls. In particular, the government can log keystrokes and even manipulate the users’ computers.
According to Der Spiegel, at least two states have admitted using the virus, with others and even the federal government under suspicion. MSNBC reports that German firm DigiTask has admitted selling a similar software to Bavaria, though it is not confirmed this is the same program.
The scandal may have wider repercussions for Angela Merkel’s already stretched coalition government.
Coalition party the Free Democrats (FDP) has attempted to placate the public by criticising the use of the programs, causing a split with Angela Merkel’s intelligence coordinator Günter Heiss who has said that the Trojan’s are customisable and not necessarily illegal. German justice minister has called for a probe into the program, reports the BBC.
All in all there still remains a large amount of confusion over the programs, including, specifically, who was using them and why — and what the international repercussions would be. Perhaps most intriguingly of all, the virus has become known as “R2D2” for the deliberate references to Star Wars contained in the code.
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