Is the government spying on you? Find out

Uber is misogynistic, says targeted journalist
Uber is misogynistic, says targeted journalist

Are you concerned that the government is spying on you? A consortium of human rights activists claim a new app called Detekt will alert you if spies are watching.

Detekt works like an antivirus scan. Run it on your computer, and it tells you if the machine has been infected with malware that many government-sponsored hackers are known to use to spy on activists and journalists.

For example, the Ethiopian government has been hiring hacking mercenaries to crack down on bloggers. Ethopia has jailed journalists for critical reporting. Their surveillance is widespread: An American citizen in Silver Spring, Maryland with Ethiopian ties recently found this kind of spyware on his home computer, according to a federal lawsuit.

Ala'a Shehabi, a British economist in Bahrain, was among those targeted with FinFisher spyware during that country's lethal military crackdown on pro-democracy protests during the Arab Spring in 2012.

And the Chinese government is widely suspected of spying on its citizens' online activities.

Related: How the NSA can 'turn on' your phone remotely

Detekt is the work of Italian security researcher Claudio Guarnieri, Amnesty International, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and similar groups in England and Germany.

Snowden gives pep talk to hackers
Snowden gives pep talk to hackers

Detekt is limited, though. It only works on Windows computers. Researchers don't have enough insight into how spyware works on Macs, Guarnieri said.

It's also not meant to stop the kind of bulk government surveillance revealed by NSA contractor Edward Snowden last year.

And Detekt only spots eight different types of malware, including the strains most commonly used by governments. Now that government-hired hackers know there's a foil around, they're sure to find a workaround, Guarnieri acknowledged.

Those limitations are why some cybersecurity experts aren't convinced it'll work.

But it's not meant to be the only solution, said Jillian C. York, who worked on the project as EFF's director for international freedom of expression.

"It's just one more piece of a toolkit to fight corporations selling spyware to democratic and authoritarian governments," she said. "But we absolutely need it."

The fact that Detekt was made an open-source project means that it can only get better, because anyone can see how the code works -- and contribute to it. It also makes Detekt trustworthy, said Mikko Hypponen, the top security researcher at F-Secure in Finland.

But if anything else, the man behind Detekt also expects it will spark a conversation about the ethical ramifications of government espionage.

"I also hope that this will get people to reflect on how they feel about their governments using spyware," Guarnieri said.

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