British defence giant BAE allegedly sold cyber-tools which could threaten UK security

BAE Systems is alleged to have sold sophisticated decryption and cyber-surveillance tools to nations across the Middle East, including repressive regimes, according to a new investigation undertaken by BBC Arabic and a Danish newspaper.

The in-depth investigation, which ran for a year, involved speaking with insiders from BAE and the British government as well as former intelligence operatives, and found that the tools being sold included decryption software and systems designed to facilitate mass surveillance. The former could potentially be used against the UK (or indeed other nations) in order to crack encrypted communications.

The BBC notes that officially, these sales are legal, but the investigation found plenty of evidence showing cyber-surveillance tools actively being used to crush any dissent or opposition in some Arab states.

For example, in Oman, human rights activists have been jailed and had their network destroyed, and cyber-security experts that the Beeb talked to said it was ‘highly likely’ this was a direct result of the Omani regime’s mass surveillance system.

Evident evidence

The investigation found that ETI, a cyber-intelligence firm acquired by BAE back in 2010, sold a mass surveillance system called ‘Evident’ to the Tunisian government, who subsequently used it to repress their opponents in the first uprising of the ‘Arab Spring’.

The BBC spoke to a former Tunisian intelligence operative who said: “ETI installed it and engineers came for training sessions. [It] works with keywords. You put in an opponent's name and you will see all the sites, blogs, social networks related to that user.”

Furthermore, according to documents obtained from the Danish government, ETI has apparently also sold sophisticated decryption tools to a number of nations: Oman, Qatar, UAE, Algeria and Morocco.

BAE refused to speak directly to the BBC during the course of the investigation, but the company did issue a statement to say: “Our technology plays a crucial role in enabling the UK and its allies to combat the threat of international terrorism. BAE Systems is committed to operating ethically and responsibly.

“We have robust policies and procedures in place to ensure that our international exports to overseas governments are all fully compliant with international export regulations as well as our own strict criteria to evaluate every potential contract.”

Image Credit: BBC

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).