By Own Correspondent
Zimbabwe has been mentioned amongst top buyers of Cyberespionage, a software that is deployed in mobile networks telecommunication system by government to monitor and track targeted individuals.
According to Circles, a surveillance firm that reportedly exploits weaknesses in the global mobile phone system to snoop on calls, texts, and the location of phones around the globe stated that Zimbabwe was amongst its customers.
Circles, whose products work without hacking the phone itself, says they sell only to nation-states. According to leaked documents, Circles customers can purchase a system that they connect to their local telecommunications companies’ infrastructure, or can use a separate system called the “Circles Cloud,” which interconnects with telecommunications companies around the world.
Zimbabwe government earlier on produced a documentary where they published exact GPS location of MDC Alliance activists and possible chats, a move they could have established by using such a software.
From the 252 IP addresses we detected in 50 ASNs, we identified 25 governments that are likely to be Circles customers. We also identified 17 specific government branches that appear to be Circles customers, based on WHOIS, passive DNS, and historical scanning data from Check Point firewall IPs or their neighbors.
As internet penetration and smartphone usage increases across Africa, digital spaces have become increasingly important in organizing opposition movements.
The use of Circles by governments in Africa is as a way of crushing resistance as digital spaces have become increasingly important in organizing opposition movements.
The public discussion around surveillance and tracking largely focuses on well known technical means, such as targeted hacking and network interception. However, other forms of surveillance are regularly and extensively used by governments and third parties to engage in cross-border surveillance and monitoring.
Abuse of the global telephone system for tracking and monitoring is believed to be widespread, however it is difficult to investigate. When a device is tracked or messages intercepted there are not necessarily any traces on the target’s device for researchers or investigators to find.
Meanwhile, cellular carriers have many technical difficulties identifying and blocking abuses of their infrastructure. This comes as internet penetration and smartphone usage increase across the continent.
In response, several governments have at times shut down the internet or blocked social media apps and some regimes have turned to digital surveillance technology for more subtle ways to crush resistance.
In a recent report titled Running in Circles, the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab – which investigates digital espionage against civil society – details how 25 governments around the world are using tools developed by the Israeli telecoms company Circles.
Its technology is sold to nation-states only. It intercepts data from 3G networks, allowing the infiltrator to read messages, emails, and listen in on phone calls as they occur. Using only a telephone number, a Circles platform can also identify the location of a phone anywhere in the world within seconds without a warrant.
So far, three circles platforms were detected in Zimbabwe. The use of one dates back to 2013, while another was activated in March 2018.
The Zimbabwean government has long targeted its critics and opponents
Last year, investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume were detained ahead of anti-government protests. Circles technology may be facilitating this repression.