Spies Fail to Escape Spyware in $5 Billion Bazaar for Cyber Arms
The intelligence operative sits in a leather club chair, laptop open, one floor below the Hilton Kuala Lumpur's convention rooms, scanning the airwaves for spies.
In the salons above him, merchants of electronic interception demonstrate their gear to government agents who have descended on the Malaysian capital in early December for the Wiretapper's Ball, as this surveillance industry trade show is called.
As he tries to detect hacker threats lurking in the wireless networks, the man who helps manage a Southeast Asian country's Internet security says there's reason for paranoia.
The wares on offer include products that secretly access your Web cam, turn your cell phone into a location-tracking device, recognize your voice, mine your e-mail for anti-government sentiment and listen to supposedly secure Skype calls.
He isn't alone watching his back at this cyber-arms bazaar, whose real name is ISS World.
For three days, attendees digging into dim sum fret about losing trade secrets to hackers, or falling prey to phone interception by rival spies. They also get a tiny taste of what they've unleashed on the outside world, where their products have become weapons in the hands of regimes that use the gear to track and torture dissidents.
“I'm concerned about my calls or Internet being monitored, because that's what they sell,” says Meling Mudin, 35, a Kuala Lumpur-based information-technology security consultant who takes defensive measures as he roams the exhibits. “When I make phone calls, I step out of the hotel, I don't use my computer and I also don't use the wireless services provided.”
Eoin Treacy's view Internet surveillance, interception and counter surveillance have become big business and not without reason. The London rioters earlier this year depended heavily on Facebook and smartphones to organise their activities. Social media was also an important enabler for the various uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa this year. It is therefore reasonable to expect that various groups will seek to either disrupt or emulate the tactics employed in these examples.
The vast majority of the companies offering such products are either state controlled or privately held. Utimaco Safeware is listed in Germany has a market cap of €228 million and yields 5.61%. Its price pattern shares commonality with a number of other defence sector shares. It has pulled back steadily since July and will need to sustain a move above the 200-day MA to indicate a return to demand dominance beyond the short term. (Also see Comment of the Day on December 2nd).