The Defence Intelligence Agency, Abuja, has acquired equipment which can spy on calls and text messages by Nigerians, a new report by CitizensLab has shown.
The Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto in Canada.
The report titled, “Running in Circles: Uncovering the Clients of Cyber-espionage Firm Circles” offers new perspectives detailing how a telecoms surveillance company, Circles, has deployed its platforms across Africa, helping state security departments to snoop on communications of opposition politicians, journalists, and protestors.
It noted that Circles is affiliated with a Tel Aviv-based NSO Group, which became globally known last year for the Pegasus spyware scandal.
The same Circles was reported to have been used to exploit a vulnerability in the popular WhatsApp application to spy opposition organisers in several countries.
The report reads, “Our scanning identified two Circles systems in Nigeria. The same entity may operate one system as one of the Nigerian customers of the FinFisher spyware that we detected in December 2014.
“The firewall IPs are in the same /27 as the IP address of the FinFisher C&C server we detected in our 2014 scans (188.8.131.52). The other client appears to be the Nigerian Defence Intelligence Agency as its firewall IPs are in AS37258, a block of IP addresses registered to “HQ Defence Intelligence Agency Asokoro, Nigeria, Abuja.”
“Members of civil society in Nigeria face a wide range of digital threats. A recent report by Front Line Defenders concluded that Nigeria’s government has conducted mass surveillance of citizens’ telecommunications.”
The report quoted an investigation by an online newspaper, Premium Times, which found out that the Nigerian governors of Bayelsa and Delta states purchased systems from Circles to spy on their political opponents.
“In Delta State, Premium Times reports that the system was installed at the “governor’s lodge,” and operated by employees of the governor, rather than police.
“In Bayelsa State, the governor reportedly used the Circles system to spy on his opponent in an election, as well as his opponent’s wife and aides. The investigation also found that the two Circles systems were imported without the proper authorisations from Nigeria’s Office of the National Security Adviser,” the report added.
Other African countries that have been employing Circles’ surveillance platforms are Kenya, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco, and Zambia.