Detekt tool aims to tell activists if their PCs are being spied on

A coalition of human rights groups has released a tool called Detekt, for finding known spyware packages. It doesn’t promise a 100 percent hit rate, but it’s supposed to help journalists and activists see if their Windows PCs have been infected with the likes of FinFisher, which has been used everywhere from the U.K. and U.S. to Germany, India and Bahrain.

The groups include Amnesty International, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Privacy International and Germany’s Digitale Gesellschaft. Detekt was developed by security researcher Claudio Guarnieri, who noted that it is not yet supported on the 64-bit version of Windows 8.1.

“Governments are increasingly using dangerous and sophisticated technology that allows them to read activists and journalists’ private emails and remotely turn on their computer’s camera or microphone to secretly record their activities,” Amnesty head of military, security and police Marek Marczynski said in a statement. “They use the technology in a cowardly attempt to prevent abuses from being exposed.”

The human rights groups stressed that Detekt may not catch all spyware, and some spyware will probably be updated to avoid being detected by it. The tool doesn’t actually remove spyware it finds, but is more for gathering evidence of surveillance. If you use it and it finds something, don’t reconnect the PC to the internet and find an expert to look at the logs (which should be printed or saved on another device.)

I’ve run Detekt on my two Windows PCs and, while it worked (all clear, apparently), it did take about an hour and a half rather than the 30-40 minutes it should take. I’m interested in hearing the experiences of others who’ve tried it.

Amnesty International and others want the introduction of trade controls to stop the sale of systems such as FinFisher, which was developed by a British firm called Gamma that is now based in Germany. Remember, if your devices have been compromised by this sort of spyware, you can forget about conducting private communications on them. All the encryption in the world won’t help you if a keylogger can monitor what you’re typing.

Also on Thursday, Privacy International released a report detailing widespread surveillance of activists and journalists in Central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The group claims this is facilitated by surveillance systems provided by Israeli companies called Verint Israel and NICE systems.

This article was updated at 5.25am PT to note that my scans using Detekt did eventually complete.