A new report from Citizen Lab has shown that the Nigerian government has purchased surveillance equipment to spy on Nigerians’ mobile calls and short message service (SMS).
The Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto, focusing on research, development and high-level strategic policy and legal engagement at the intersection of research technologies. information and communication, human rights, and global security.
It investigates digital espionage against civil society, documents Internet filtering and other technologies and practices that impact online freedom of expression, analyzes privacy, security and controls. popular application information, and examines transparency and accountability mechanisms relevant to the relationship between businesses and state agencies. regarding personal data and other monitoring activities.
In the report, titled “Running in Circles: Uncovering the Clients of Cyberespionage Firm Circles”, the Nigeria Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and another unspecified entity in Nigeria had acquired the equipment from Circles, a cybersecurity company founded by an Israeli affiliated with the groups NSO to exploit vulnerabilities in telecommunications systems and access calls, SMS and location services.
“Our analysis identified two Circles systems in Nigeria. One system may be operated by the same entity as one of the Nigerian FinFisher spyware clients we detected in December 2014.
“The firewall IPs are in the same / 27 as the FinFisher C&C server IP address that we detected in our 2014 scans (22.214.171.124). The other client appears to be the Nigerian Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), as its firewall IP addresses are AS37258, a block of IP addresses registered with “HQ Defense Intelligence Agency Asokoro, Nigeria, Abuja”.
In 2016, Premium Times had reported that two former Nigerian governors of Bayelsa and Delta states bought systems from Circles to spy on their political opponents. In Delta State, Premium Times reports that the system was installed in the “governor’s lodge” and operated by governor’s employees rather than the police.
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In Bayelsa state, the governor allegedly used the circles system to spy on his opponent in an election, as well as his opponent’s wife and assistants. The investigation also revealed that the two Circles systems were imported without the proper permissions from the Office of the National Security Advisor of Nigeria.
The report adds that members of civil society in Nigeria face a wide range of digital threats.
A recent Front Line Defenders report concluded that the Nigerian government “carried out mass surveillance of citizens’ telecommunications”. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also reported several cases of the Nigerian government’s abuse of telephone surveillance.
The Nigerian government recently renewed its efforts to control and manage social media under the pretext that it wants to fight against the spread of fake news.
Angered by the #ENDSARS protest, the Nigerian government launched a deadly state security crackdown on protest activists by freezing their accounts and arresting them on trumped-up charges.