By Ogala Emmanuel
If the Bayelsa state governor, Seriake Dickson, has ever given you a phone, there are high chances he has a recording of all messages you ever received and sent on it, all pictures you ever saved on it and any other data you stored or transmitted on that phone.
New information PREMIUM TIMES obtained from the 415GB of internal office records leaked to the public after Hacking Team, the Italian contractor the governor hired to hack phones and computers in Nigeria, was hacked last week shows that at some point in the lifetime of the project, the governor’s office distributed compromised Blackberry phones as gifts to his targets to gain access to their private lives.
The Bayelsa hacking contract was channelled through NICE, an Israeli company and V&V Nigeria, another Israeli company based in Nigeria. While V&V handled the payments, NICE which had stronger business relationship with Hacking Team handled the implementation and operation of the hacking tools.
NICE, however, appointed Skylinks Satellite Communications Limited to represent its interest in the contract. Skylinks, founded in 2006, said its business focus is in advanced satellite communication services to Africa.
Remote Control System
The Remote Control System which is at the centre of the contract, is designed to attack, infect and monitor target PCs and smartphones in a stealth way.
Once a target is infected, RCS allows attackers to access a variety of information, including Skype traffic (VoIP, chat), keystrokes, mails, messages, target positioning, files, screenshots, microphone eavesdropped data, and camera snapshots.
Susceptible operating systems include Windows XP/Vista/7 (32 & 64 bit) and Mac-OS. And smartphones like Windows Mobile, iPhone (jailbroken), Blackberry and Android.
Email exchanges between Skylinks CEO, Haim Lewy and Hacking Team’s key account manager, Massimiliano Luppi, in July 2013 reveal details of the strategies they applied to resuscitate this hacking solution at a point it seemed it was going to fail.
On the morning of Sunday, 28 July 2013, Haim of Skylinks, apparently on the edge, sent a mail to Luppi in Milan, Italy. It was the third time he was sending that mail. The subject was “the installation in Bayelsa – Third Transmission”.
“This mail is sent to you the third time, it looks to me like you never received it hence you never ignored my (e)mails, maybe some spam issues…” Haim wrote before attaching the complaints.
It was clear in his tone that the project was failing and the governor was threatening to stop payments.
His first complaint was that the slow internet connectivity in Bayelsa was slowing the governor who was monitoring his victims on his phone.
His second complaint and how they handled it is what will leave many politicians in Bayelsa state, especially those who may have received phone gifts from the governor’s office, worried.
Mr. Dickson’s target in the hacking project, according to the email exchanges, are people using the most advanced smartphones and latest Andriod and iOS, suggesting his targets were his political superiors, peers or associates.
As at the time the email was sent, Hacking Team’s solution was a tad obsolete and lagging in spying on newer operating systems.
“The only platform we support fully is the BlackBerry and that made us to give away few phones to some targets just to show the client (Dickson) it is working well,” Skylink’s CEO, Haim, said in the mail.
Haim defended the deception in his mail saying the governor was disputing the workability of the project and “he refused to pay for it this is putting in danger not only the money also our reputation on other deals and projects we have with him”.
It is not immediately clear if the governor was aware of the greek gifts but as at the time the phone gifts were given, a Skylink engineer and two Bayelsans – trained by Hacking Team in Italy – were attached to the governor.
Subsequent emails between Luppi and Haim suggest the problem was solved almost immediately.
“As far as I know, all the issues has (sic) been solved thanks to a constant communication between your company and our support team,” Luppi wrote in an email to Haim, three days later.
The server for the hack attacks and the data collected were later moved to Abuja the following month.
This report first appeared on PREMIUM TIMES and we have their permission to republish