INVESTIGATION: Bayelsa Governor forges End User Certificate to procure N100M hacking tools

Seriake Dickson

In addition to criminally hacking phones in Nigeria, the Bayelsa state governor, Seriake Dickson, may have forged sensitive national documents in the process of buying hacking solutions from Italian firm, Hacking Team, new information emerging from our ongoing investigations have revealed.

Investigators from the National Security Adviser’s office are now seeking to unravel how Mr. Dickson imported high caliber cyber attack tools without an End User Certificate, a prerequisite for the purchase of international defence tools – including cyber defence and warfare.

In Nigeria,  End User Certificates for such security and defence related purchases is issued only by the National Security Adviser.

The investigations followed evidences thrown up by the recent hacking of  the governor’s hacking tools provider, Hacking Team, an Italian firm which specializes in developing tools for government agencies to hack their own citizens.

Hacking Team, notorious for the ruthlessness of their intrusive hacking tools, was itself hacked early July and 415GB of client files, contracts, financial documents, and internal emails, some as recent as 2015, publicly made available for download.

Hacking Team’s records showed it worked with the Bayelsa state Governor, Seriake Dickson, and many other suppressive regimes across the world, such as  Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Russia, Bahrain and Ethiopia.

The records also showed that the firm had contracts with U.S. government agencies like FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The Bayelsa hacking contract was channeled through NICE, an Israeli company and V&V Nigeria, another Israeli company based in Nigeria. While V&V handled the payments, NICE which had stronger business relationship with Hacking Team, handled the implementation and operation of the hacking tools.

NICE, however, appointed Skylinks Satellite Communications Limited to represent its interest in the contract.

Mr. Dickson’s hacking expedition had gone undetected until Hacking Team was hacked early July.

The Bayelsa state governor’s hacking contract with Hacking Team breached both local and international regulations.

Purchases in the category of Hacking Teams solutions require an End User Certificate from Nigeria’s National Security Adviser before any deal is sealed.

European Union laws also prohibits the sale of similar weapons without an End User Certificate issued by the national security authority of importing countries.

Internal Hacking Team’s company records show that Mr. Dickson obtained the hacking tools from the Italian firm without a genuine End User Certificate issued by the office of the National Security Adviser.

Mr. Dickson literarily bypassed the office of the National Security Adviser, apparently enlisting the help of Hacking Team, Skylinks and V&V Nigeria in securing a certificate.

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Officials officials at the Office of the National Security Adviser confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES it did not issue Mr. Dickson an End User Certificate for the purchase of the hacking tools.

“There is no way the NSA would have issued an End User Certificate for Bayelsa governor to purchase such cyber weapon,” an official told PREMIUM TIMES citing security regulations which allows only national security agencies to use such weapons. “He will need to explain how he obtained the Certificate with which he bought the tools and what laws empowered him to embark on hacking of citizens’ computers and phones.”

Rather than approach the NSA for an End User Certificate,  Hacking Team placed emphasis on the End User License Agreement, EULA – usually signed by the customer – in completing the deal.

In one email, Haim of Skylinks had demanded a “format” of the End User Certificate. Mr. Luppi replied with a format for End User License Agreement, EULA.

“We must receive the EULA officially signed by the end user,” Mr, Luppi stressed, after several email exchanges with Haim of Skylinks.

Officials of the National Security Adviser said if it were approached, it would have turned down the request.

The NSA, in one instance, turned down similar request from the former Akwa Ibom state governor, Godswill Akpabio.

“Only federal security agencies are allowed to acquire such cyber defence tools,” officials at the NSA told PREMIUM TIMES. “Mr. Dickson’s hacking activities are illegal.”

Officials in charge of issuing End User Certificates at the NSA’s office, as well as digital security experts told PREMIUM TIMES Hacking Team and Bayelsa State Government may have “forged” the End User Certificate.

When contacted, Bayelsa state government declined to comment for this story.

Skylinks could not be reached for comments. It’s known telephone numbers failed to connect the several times PREMIUM TIMES called.

Remote Control System [RCS]

The Remote Control System, which is at the centre of the contract, is designed to attack, infect and monitor target PCs and smartphones in a stealth way.

Once a target is infected, RCS allows attackers to access a variety of information, including Skype traffic (VoIP, chat), keystrokes, mails, messages, target positioning, files, screenshots, microphone eavesdropped data, and camera snapshots.

Susceptible operating systems include Windows XP/Vista/7 (32 & 64 bit) and Mac-OS. And smartphones like Windows Mobile, iPhone (jailbroken), Blackberry and Android.

Depending on what Mr. Dickson wanted to achieve, he had the ability to stealthily record images with  webcam images, record Skype calls or keystrokes on gadgets. He had the ability to track financial transactions or detect his target’s exact geographic location. He also had the ability to turn the microphone on on your device and listen or record live audio stream from his target’s phone.

Who did Dickson Hack?

Investigators are also seeking to determine the extent Mr. Dickson drove his hacking expeditions and who his exact victims were.

Mr. Dickson’s target in the hacking project, according to the leaked email exchanges, are people using the most advanced smartphones and latest Andriod and iOS, suggesting his targets were his political superiors, peers or associates.

More Nigerian Clients

“The Bayelsa hacking saga came to light a little too late, though it could point to a bigger systematic programme by the government,” said Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria.

But the Bayelsa state governor is not the only one in Nigeria who sought the services of Hacking Team.

He is also not the only one hacking devices in Nigeria at the moment.  He is, however, the only one Hacking Team lists as client, suggesting he was the only one who successfully bought Hacking Team’s solutions.

On the afternoon of May 24, 2014, Yemi Animashaun, the CEO of Tunsmos Petroleum, an oil and gas company, wrote David Vincenzetti, the CEO of Hacking Team demanding details of their hacking solution.

In her emails, Mrs Animashaun, an engineer, explained that her company was diversifying into security.

“As a company we will be interested in developing a partnership with your company, this will allow us represent, market, and introduce your stealth spyware solutions to our state intelligence agencies here in Nigeria,” she wrote.

Few emails exchanges later, Mrs. Animashaun unveiled her direct client in Nigeria. It was the Office of the National Security Adviser!

According to Mrs. Animashaun, the NSA was more interested in Hacking Team solution’s ability to decrypt secure data.

The NSA’s office declined to comment on its relationship with Tunsmos Petroleum and its CEO, Mrs Animashaun.

Evidence available to PREMIUM TIMES so far suggest the National Security Adviser failed to acquire Hacking Team’s solutions, after at least two tries.

Former Akwa Ibom governor, Godswill Akpabio also tried to acquire Hacking Team’s Galileo.

But after the office of the National Security Adviser denied him End User Certificate, Mr. Akpabio gave up and pursued other options.

The Nigeria Police Force also tried to acquire Hacking Teams solutions through two intermediaries. When these failed, the police approached the Italian company directly.

In June 2014, police actively sought Hacking Team’s Remote Control System through  Akubo Jerry Innocent, its National Technician. The police claimed it was for its Interpol unit.

This solution was also marketed to the Ministry of Defence and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Ministry of Police Affairs, and State Security Services (SSS).

Although the SSS showed interest at some point, it later lost interest and declined purchase because it was already exclusively using similar solution supplied by a German company, Gamma Group since 2010.

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