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Ethiopian refugee wants UK action over hacking

Wednesday - 2/19/2014, 10:02am  ET

RAPHAEL SATTER
Associated Press

LONDON (AP) -- An Ethiopian refugee has urged police to investigate whether he had been hacked by his home government on British soil.

If taken up, Tadesse Kersmo's call could spark a diplomatically sensitive inquiry into whether Ethiopia's security services have been using high tech methods to attack their critics abroad -- and whether a U.K. company has been equipping them for the task.

Speaking at a news conference organized by London-based Privacy International, Kersmo said Monday that he thought he was safe from snooping when he left Ethiopia for the United Kingdom in 2009.

"I was wrong," he said.

Kersmo said he realized something was amiss when confidential files kept on his computer began appearing online. When experts at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, an Internet watchdog group, checked his machine, they found evidence it had been infected by FinSpy, a powerful espionage program distributed by the Britain-based Gamma Group.

Kersmo is the latest expatriate Ethiopian to find himself at the receiving end of powerful cyberattacks. Last year, U.S.-based opposition figure Berhanu Nega told The Associated that he and his colleagues were purging their hard drives for fear that they had been compromised. Last week, Citizen Lab reported that two Ethiopian journalists, one based in Belgium, the other in Alexandria, Virginia, had been targeted in electronic attacks.

Dina Mufti, a spokesman for the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, rejected any suggestion that his government was engaged in hacking, describing the claims as baseless.

In a formal complaint to Britain's National Crime Agency, Privacy International asked for an investigation into the cyberattack on Kersmo -- and any involvement by Gamma.

The Crime Agency said Monday it was unable to confirm or deny whether an investigation had been opened into the attack. Gamma did not return a message seeking comment.

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Elias Meseret in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia contributed to this report.

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Online:

Privacy International's announcement: http://bit.ly/1hppQZS

Citizen Lab's report on the attacks against Ethiopian journalists: http://bit.ly/1heE0Nm

Gamma Group's website: https://www.gammagroup.com

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Raphael Satter can be reached at: http://raphae.li/twitter


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