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After Cellebrite Breach, Hacking Team Lashes Out Against ‘Vigilante Hackers’

The head of the controversial spy tech company denounces the hack on Cellebrite.
Image: Lucky Business/Shutterstock

In 2016, a vigilante hacker broke into the servers of the popular Israeli phone hacking company Cellebrite, which sells hardware and software to countless police departments across the world, stealing more than 900 gigabytes of data, as Motherboard first reported last week.

The hack bears resemblance to previous attacks on FinFisher in 2014 and Hacking Team in 2015. Both companies sell software to government agencies that is designed to hack computers and cellphones. As a victim of a similar assault, the CEO of Hacking Team offered solidarity to Cellebrite in a mailing list message sent on Monday, saying the hack was "hardly something to celebrate."


Read more: The Hacking Team Defectors

Hacking Team head David Vincenzetti, who oversaw the Italian company through its embarrassing 2015 attack, took advantage of the opportunity to condemn "internet vigilantes" who hack companies they don't like in an attempt to "destroy" them.

"Self-appointed 'prosecutors,' 'judges' and 'executioners,' these secret operators believe it is their mission to attack by whatever means available companies that provide investigative tools to law enforcement," Vincenzetti wrote, clearly referring to Phineas Fisher, who hacked Hacking Team, and the still-unknown hacker or hackers behind the attack on Cellebrite. "Never mind the crimes and terrorism facilitated every day by the modern encryption and Internet tools that provide a screen to protect the lawless."

"In the name of protecting Internet 'privacy,' these operators seek to simply destroy companies they don't like."

Vincenzetti strongly condemned these "vigilantes," saying they "exploit the very privacy protections they claim to be defending." He didn't elaborate on what he meant by that, however, and didn't respond to an email requesting comment.

"In the name of protecting Internet 'privacy,' these operators seek to simply destroy companies they don't like," he wrote in the message. "In doing so, they are exploiting the Internet in the same way as do drug dealers, sex trade peddlers and criminal gangs."

While Vincenzetti's words are predictable, they underline the tension between surveillance tech companies and the hackers who have targeted them, often working as self-appointed defenders of privacy and freedom. Given that Phineas Fisher intended his actions to create a "hack back" movement with strong political undertones, it's safe to assume Cellebrite won't be the last victim of hackers that don't seem interested in making a profit, but making a political, subversive statement.

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