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Want to Buy Some Spyware?

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If you're looking for software to remotely control someone else's computer, record their activities and activate webcams, there's an Italian company willing to sell it for a few hundred thousand bucks. And they're shopping it around to numerous law enforcement agencies.

The Italian company is called Hacking Team and leaked emails show that the FBI has been using their software for about five years.  The malware, called RCS for Remote Control System, isn't cheap, but Hacking Team is known to be aggressively marketing their software to intelligence agencies and larger law enforcement agencies in the US.  Some have denied using it or the intent to purchase it, citing it as being "too controversial".  

A spokesman for Hacking Team says that they don't disclose the names or details of their clients, but it's known that they use codenames for different agencies.  The CIA, which hasn't yet bought RCS, is called Marianne.  The DEA is Katie and the FBI is Phoebe.

The DEA appears to have bought RCS to use with Columbia.  One released email explains that "Katie" would be the system administrator while the Columbian agencies would actually be collecting the data.  It was said that if it worked well they would spread its use to other countries, citing Chile and El Salvador as countries they were already in talks with.

Hacking Team's biggest obstacle is that the malware is controversial for being too powerful.  A big holdup has been getting the legal people: district attorneys and lawyers, to be comfortable with what they can and can't legally do with the software.

RCS can cost over $750,000 in initial licensing fees plus almost $400,000 a year in maintenance and service, so Hacking Team is eyeing large US markets hungrily.  The question is whether these locales are more concerned about privacy rights or having a powerful spy tool.