The game Civilization VI contained Red Shell, a spyware application that tracks what ads players are looking at, among other things. It's now gone after a new patch -- and other game publishers have been scrambling to do likewise after being caught with their spyglasses up and their pants down.
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Developers and publishers behind games including Conan Exiles, The Elder Scrolls Online, Hunt: Showdown, and Total War have vowed to remove Red Shell – or already removed it.
“Whilst Red Shell is only used to measure the effectiveness of our advertising, we can see that players are clearly concerned about it and it will be difficult for us to entirely reassure every player,” said Total War devs Creative Assembly, for example. “So, from the next update we will remove the implementation of Red Shell from those Total War games that use it.”
Other statements were broadly the same: a defence along the lines of “it’s not spyware as bad as you might think but yeah we get you’re skeezed out and we will remove it.”
When Grey Heron surfaced this month selling anti-Signal and anti-Telegram surveillance tools at a UK trade show for cyber-arms-dealers, sharp-eyed journalists at Motherboard immediately noticed that the company's spokesman was last seen fronting for Hacking Team, a disgraced Italian cyber-arms-dealer that provided surveillance weapons to some of the world's cruelest dictators.
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It's been less than a year since a public-spirited hacker broke into the servers of Florida stalkerware vendor Retina-X, wiping out all the photos and data the company's customers had stolen from other peoples' phones (including their kids' phones) by installing the spying apps Phonesheriff on them.
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Flexispy is the creepy stalkerware advertised to abusive spouses and exes that Motherboard's Joseph Cox has been relentlessly tracking; when he acquired a leaked trove of the company's files, he started to mine it to see who was buying the potentially illegal app.
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Researchers from the University of Toronto's amazing Citizen Lab (previously) have published a new report detailing the latest tactics from the autocratic government of Ethiopia, "the world's first turnkey surveillance state" whose human rights abuses have been entirely enabled with software and expertise purchased on the open market, largely from companies in western countries like Finfisher and Hacking Team.
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The Federal Trade Commission has announced a settlement with Lenovo over the 2015 revelation that the company pre-installed malware called "Superfish" on its low-end models, which allowed the company to spy on its customers, and also left those customers vulnerable to attacks from third parties, who could exploit Superfish's weakened security. Read the rest
On the one hand, if you let an untrusted stranger install hardware in your electronic device, you're opening yourself up to all kinds of potential mischief; on the other hand, an estimated one in five smartphones has a cracked screen and the easiest, most efficient and cheapest way to get that fixed is to go to your corner repair-shop. Read the rest
In 2014, 43 students from Mexico's Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College went missing in Iguala, in the state of Guerrero: they had been detained by police, who turned them over to a criminal militia, who are presumed to have murdered them. Read the rest
Comparitech commissioned a survey of 2,000 people in the US and UK to ask whether they thought "it is legal to install a program on a partner's phone to snoop on their activity?" and whether they would "ever consider adding a program to your child's phone that allows you to listen to their conversations and spy on their messages?" Read the rest
Motherboard's Joseph Cox continues his excellent reporting on Flexispy, a company that make "stalkerware" marketed to jealous spouses through a network of shady affiliates who feature dudes beating up their "cheating girlfriends" after catching them by sneaking spyware onto their devices. Read the rest
Two hackers supplied Motherboard with 130,000 account details hacked from Retina-X and FlexiSpy, who market covert surveillance tools to jealous spouses and nervous parents -- tools that are intended to be covertly installed on their laptops and mobile devices in order to tap into their keystrokes, mics, calls, stored photos and other capabilities. Read the rest
A factory refurbished Thinkpad shipped with Windows 7 and a scheduler app that ran once a day, collecting usage data about what you do with your computer and exfiltrating it to an analytics company. Read the rest
My search for an easy way to generate strong passwords and passphrases led me to the "Diceware" method Cory wrote about on Boing Boing. This was no game. I needed serious dice.
The spyware that Impero supplies to UK schools -- which searches kids' Internet use for "jihadi" terms -- uses "password" as its default password, and the company has threatened brutal legal reprisals against the researcher who repeatedly demonstrated their total security negligence. Read the rest
Lenovo's disgraceful use of Superfish to compromise its users' security is just the tip of the iceberg: everywhere we look, companies have decided that it's a good idea to sneakily subvert their users' encryption. Read the rest
Hammad Akbar, a Pakistani national and CEO of Invocode, marketers of Stealthgenie, was arrested in LA on Saturday and charged with a variety of offenses related to making, marketing and selling "interception devices." Read the rest
Rebecca from EFF writes, "How would you feel about having your computer taken over by online test-taking software - complete with proctors peering through your laptop camera? Reporters at the Spartan Daily (the student paper for San Jose State University) have an interesting story about new software in use there, and the legitimate concerns that some students have. The data-broker connection is especially chilling to those worried about their personal information." The company's response? "We're a customer service business, so it’s really not advantageous for us to violate that trust." Oh, well, so long as that's sorted out then. Read the rest