GCHQ spying revelations
Hacking Team has defended itself after a massive data leak led to widespread criticism of its actions around the world Getty Images

The hack of Hacking Team, on the surface, and according to the world's cybersecurity press, appears to be a uniquely monumental event that threatens to bring down a well-known name in the mass surveillance industry.

The known fact that the company created a backdoor to its own products, and the backdoor's details have now been published, renders all of those products useless and obsolete.

What is Hacking Team?

Italian company Hacking Team sells sophisticated spying software to governments and law enforcement agencies around the world.

They have been criticised for selling their services to repressive regimes with questionable human rights records in countries such as Sudan, Bahrain and Kazakhstan.

On 5 July a trove of 400GB of data stolen from the company was posted online by an unknown hacker. This included sensitive documents, government tender details, client invoices, internal emails, and crucially, source code and explicit details on how the mass surveillance software operates.

It additionally threatens the security integrity of all of the company's clients. Those backdoors could provide hackers with the identity of every covert agency's targets, and the dates, times, means and results of every investigation.

You can bet that prior to the release of the hacked information, every agency using these products had already been hacked. This bodes ill for law enforcement and covert agencies.

The leaked emails have cast doubt on the fundamental integrity of the company – something that I believe it will not be overcome. I believe that this event has all but terminated Hacking Team as a player in the mass surveillance field.

The company itself however strongly refutes this, with spokesperson Eric Rabe telling IBTimes UK this is not the end of the company and it would soon have its product back online for its customers.

Yes, it's an event of high magnitude. But largely unnoticed events of far greater magnitude have been happening in the mass surveillance industry.

$50bn global mass surveillance industry

Hacking Team CEO David Vincenzetti, in one of the typical leaked emails authored by himself, stated earlier this year: "Definitely, we are notorious, probably the most notorious name in the offensive security market. This is great."

Or perhaps not so great. Hacking Team is one of the smallest corporations, in a field of hundreds, that provide mass surveillance software tools, and employs little more than 50 employees worldwide.

Compare this to Harris Corporation, a US-based firm and the world's largest provider of mass surveillance software tools, which employs more than 13,000 employees and generates more than $5bn (£3.24bn) in annual sales.

As for notoriety, Harris Corporation is the manufacturer of the Stingray – the "mobile cell tower in a box" used by virtually every law enforcement and covert agency in the world to intercept mobile phone calls and remotely plant spy software on smart phones.

British company Aegis Ltd, and the French Velours International come in second and third respectively, in a field of more than 350 companies worldwide that provide cybersurveillance tools to law enforcement and government spy agencies.

Together these companies comprise a $50bn-a-year spy industry targeted at the masses – the world's hapless citizens.

Dark web explained

The dark web is a section of the internet that is not indexed by search engines such as Google, and not easily navigated to using a standard web browser.

Accessing the dark web requires specialised knowledge and software tools. An example of this is content only accessible by using the Tor software and anonymity network, which while protecting privacy, is often associated with illicit activities.

The psyche of spying

As with the Sony hack, it is the leaked emails that allow us to dig deep into the psyche of this industry. In one of the Hacking Team's leaked emails Vincenzetti states: "The Dark Net is 99% used for all kinds of illegal, criminal and terrorist activities."

This statement, as with many of his statements, is blatantly false.

On the Dark Web we of course find mind-numbing pornography, advertisements for hit men, drugs of every kind, fake Cartier watches that even Cartier cannot distinguish, human traffickers of every kind, money launderers - and even lawyers.

However, in the overwhelming majority of the Dark Web, we find human rights activists who, if their identities were known, would certainly be executed by their home country.

We find scientific or religious theories that are unpopular and would invite repercussions if the authors were known. We find whistle-blowers who pass documents of delicate sensitivity but powerful impact.

It is the medium of last resort for the disenfranchised of the world. It is definitely not "99% used for all kinds of illegal, criminal and terrorist activities".

These, and similar statements released by every one of the corporations who create and market surveillance software are designed to foster the attitude of fear propagandised by covert and law enforcement agencies within every government on the planet.

Who is John McAfee?

John McAfee arrested for drug driving

John McAfee is one of the most influential commentators on cybersecurity anywhere in the world. His new venture – Future Tense Central – focuses on security and personal privacy-related products.

McAfee provides regular insight on global hacking scandals and internet surveillance, and has become a hugely controversial figure following his time in Belize, where he claims to have exposed corruption at the highest level before fleeing the country amid accusations of murder (the Belize government is currently not pursuing any accusations against him).

The producers of mass surveillance cybertools and their customers create whatever propaganda is needed to manipulate the masses into accepting the growing and intolerable burden of the invasion of our privacy.

Disturbing reality

It is not the actual hack of Hacking Team that disturbs me. It is the implications for the rest of the industry. If this has happened to one of the smallest in the industry, then what has happened to the rest?

The Dark Web has been rife with rumours for more than a year that one of the bigger players in the mass surveillance market has suffered an as-yet-undisclosed hack of far greater magnitude, and I have personally seen documents purported to have been lifted from another major company in this market which, if true, make Hacking Team's problems seem absolutely trivial.

We are in the midst of a cyberwar, being waged on multiple fronts by multiple agencies. The government and corporate winners and losers in this war shift and re-organise with every iteration and the war continues to escalate.

Until we, as citizens, take an interest and begin to take matters into our own hands, we will be the ultimate and final losers.