Hackers are the bad guys, right? Depends on the perspective. With law enforcement agencies and governments worldwide now turning to mobile phone hacking providers, public backlash is on the rise. Who’s to say hacking tools are always used in the public interest?
According to Motherboard, one fed-up, anonymous actor decided to take matters into his or her own hands by breaching phone hack company Cellebrite and grabbing 900 GB of data, some of which may contain evidence of the company dealing with less-than-ethical authoritarian regimes.
Cellebrite’s main offering is a laptop-sized device known as the Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED), which can grab SMS messages, emails, call logs and other data from virtually any type of mobile phone. The hardware is a big draw for both nefarious actors and law enforcement agencies.
The company said its customers have no reason to worry about the most recent breach, since the compromised information came from “a legacy database backup of my.Cellebrite, the company’s end user license management system.” The firm isn’t denying the hack, however, acknowledging that 900 GB of mobile phone hacking data had indeed been lifted.
Mobile Phone Hacking Is the New Normal
Cellebrite sees itself as a legitimate provider of forensics tools that aid government agencies in investigations. According to BGR, the company is actively involved in developing the so-called Textalyser, which would potentially allow law enforcement to determine whether drivers were texting immediately before an accident.
From a gray-hat hacker’s perspective, however, companies like Cellebrite amount to little more than well-paid attackers who make their money breaching the public trust. And while there’s no guarantee the same actors were involved, this breach bears similarities to the 2015 Hacking Team breach and the 2014 attack on Gamma International, which makes webcam and email intrusion software.
Turning the Tables
In an email to Motherboard, which received the 900 GB exclusively, the anonymous actor said that “had it not been for the recent stance taken by Western governments, no one would have known but us.” Motherboard hasn’t made the data public and the actor seems to have no plans to do so, meaning that Cellebrite may escape unscathed by public ire.
Still, it’s a wake-up call for companies that provide any type of mobile phone hacking or intrusion software. Government contracts and widespread use don’t equate to lack of scrutiny. Cybercriminals are watching, waiting and, if pushed, may decide to turn the tables and publish critical records for public consumption.