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Five Years after ‘Hacking Team’ Leaked Documents, Internet Users Vulnerability Heighten in Ethiopia

Internet cafe in Ethiopia

Five Years after ‘Hacking Team’ Leaked Documents, Internet Users Vulnerability Heighten in Ethiopia

By Yosief Abraham Z

Leaked documents from the Milan based information technology—the Hacking Team—expose three Horn African countries role in putting their citizens under strict internet surveillance. Accordingly, Ethiopia—a country that has been challenged by its depilated federal system—is among the client states that have been emboldening the deplorable acts of surveillances and missions of reconnaissance.

With partial coverage by the New Yorker on its 10 March of 2014 post, the now leaked document authenticates that Ethiopia, North Sudan and Uganda have been heavily depended on ‘Hacking Team’ technological assistance to decipher encrypted emails, for recording citizens’ conversations through Skype and other Voices over IP, among others.

Though it has been appreciated for its moderate-band width and internet connection, the breach of documents from Hacking Team also asserted of North Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Services activities of using the ‘Remote Control System’ software on targeted computers. Thus, while Sudanese payment to the Milan based office of the Hacking Team was 970,000 Euro in 2012, Ethiopia’s Information Network Security Agency also enabled possessing this offensively penetrating software for 750,000 Euro in the same year with its neighbor, North Sudan.

As this ‘Remote Control System’ enable the possessors’ regimes to gather and covert collection of emails, recording phone call history and address books, uncover search history data and recording audio from phone calls, hijack video streams and, among others, extract Wi-Fi passwords, safety of targeted individuals and organizations fall under the looms of notorious activities of attempt to circumvent any communication on the internet.

Highly concerned by the Hacking Team chain with Ethiopia’s Intelligence Agency and other similar organizations, the Italian government had frozen all of Hacking Team's exports in the fall of 2014. After intensive lobbying efforts and diplomatic intercessions, Hacking Team has been returned to its tasks and is mounting its revenues, which was accounted to be 40 Million dollars before two years. This 2017-leaked email also lists Ethiopia among the five ‘anti-internet-freedom’ countries in Africa by applying surveillance technological services, embracing the FinFisher, Hacking Team and China’s ZTE Corporation.

Including to the authentication by developers of the Internet anonymizer software project—the Tor, the leaked documents unfold of DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) usage by the Ethiopian government to block access to the Tor service. OpenNet Initiative, Freedom House and Human Rights Watch, have also been reportedly included in the email expressing their concern of the Ethiopian government acts on its own citizens since 2014.

Highly supported by such technological supports, Addis Ababa has been targeting individuals’ communicational rights. Resultantly, in 2014, six members of the Zone 9 blogging collective were arrested under terrorism charges related to their reporting and use of online encryption tools.

Yosief Abraham Z is a freelance journalist and Executive Director of HorMid Media and Art Center. You can contact him at

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