Mozilla moves to stop spyware company from spoofing Firefox

Mozilla sent a cease-and-desist letter to a European company that created a piece of spyware masquerading itself as the Firefox browser.

The move Tuesday comes after computer security researchers said that they discovered that a well-known spyware program called FinSpy was spoofing Firefox. Mozilla was alerted by the researchers, who are with Citizen Lab, a research project that is part of the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs.

FinSpy is one component in a set of remote interception and intrusion tools called FinFisher, which is made by a subsidiary of U.K-based Gamma Group called Gamma International.

Citizen Lab has done extensive research into FinSpy and found it is being used in a number of countries with poor human rights records and has been used to target activists. It is considered by some to be malicious software.

Citizen Lab released a summary of its latest findings Tuesday. FinSpy makes use of Mozilla's trademark and code, wrote researchers Morgan Marquis-Boire, Bill Marczak, Claudio Guarnieri and John Scott-Railton. [Read the full report.]

"The latest Malay-language sample masquerades as Mozilla Firefox in both file properties and in manifest," they wrote. "This behavior is similar to samples discussed in some of our previous reports, including a demo copy of the product, and samples targeting Bahraini activists."

Why do it?

Hackers often dress up malicious files to make them appear to be benign, piggybacking on the inherent trust users put into known programs. Appearing to be Firefox makes it more likely potential victims will be duped into installing FinSpy.

The group said it found FinFisher command-and-control servers in 11 new countries: Hungary, Turkey, Romania, Panama, Lithuania, Macedonia, South Africa, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bulgaria and Austria. The report also summarizes one year of research Citizen Lab has done into the commercial market for offensive intrusion tools developed by Western companies.

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