Hacking Team's Equipment Got Stolen in Panama

After contested elections, the company's spy tools mysteriously went "missing."

|
Jul 7 2015, 3:59pm

Image:Matthew Straubmuller/Flickr

A surveillance system sold by the infamous surveillance software developer Hacking Team went "missing" after presidential elections in Panama at the end of 2014.

Hacking Team, a tech company that sells spyware to government customers from Ethiopia to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, was hacked on Sunday. The massive breach exposed more than 400GB of secrets, and sent the company in "full on emergency mode," as one source put it to Motherboard.

Leaked emails also suggest Hacking Team was not always in control of the products it sold, and that its clients might have abused them in Panama.

"I just got word from Robotec that the system we installed in Panama had gone missing," Hacking Team's then-salesperson Alex Velasco wrote in an email to the company's higher ups, who seemed taken aback by the incident.

"The system we installed in Panama had gone missing."

"Would you please better explain to us what 'gone missing' really means?" asked Hacking Team's CEO and co-founder David Vincenzetti in reply. "A robbery? An insider crime? Is there any newspaper article reporting this accident?"

Velasco wrote back that an individual named Hugo, presumably a local liaison, told him that Hacking Team's equipment "disappeared from the office after the presidential election, and before the new president moved in."

"All Hugo told me is that they are looking for it and can not find it," Velasco said, according to the emails. "This happened with the presidential change."

Former President Ricardo Martinelli was not running, but he had hand-picked a successor to extend his grip on power. Surprisingly, however, outsider candidate Juan Carlos Varela won.

Velasco did not respond to Motherboard's request for comment.

"Our best hope is that no report develops regarding this."

Eric Rabe, the company's head of marketing and spokesperson, didn't seem too worried about the loss of powerful surveillance technology—but was more preoccupied about the press finding out about it.

"Our best hope is that no report develops regarding this," Rabe wrote. "Should we get a call anywhere from a member of the press, elected official, regulator, etc. regarding the Panama system, we should say as little as possible but try to determine what the caller knows, then promise to look into it and call back. Then we can decided [sic] whether or not to offer any comment and, if so, what."

Rabe, too, did not respond to a request for comment.

It's unclear from the leaked data whether the missing system ever resurfaced, or what exactly happened to cause its disappearance in the first place. A source with knowledge of the incident said that the lost Remote Control System installation was never found, but it's likely not operational anymore. As Motherboard reported yesterday, Hacking Team has the ability to shut down its customers systems, if the need to.

After the elections in Panama, the the former president Martinelli has been accused of illegally wiretapping dozens of public figures, politicians and business people, according to local reports. In his defense, Martinelli said the investigations were nothing more than an attempt of "political vengeance" by Varela, the current president of Panama—who has also been accused of spying on political enemies. A witness told Panama America that Varela has likely engaged in surveillance without judicial oversight, according to the report.

Regardless of who's doing it, it seems there's been a lot of spying going on in Panama, perhaps thanks to Hacking Team's technology.