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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

FinFisher Claims Insolvency Amid German Gov. Investigation

Image for article titled Creepy Spyware Company Goes Broke

Photo: Andrzej Wojcicki (Getty Images)

FinFisher is no more. Long accused of helping authoritarian governments to spy on political dissidents and activists, the creepy surveillance company has abruptly shut down amidst an ongoing investigation into its business dealings.

On Monday, Bloomberg reported that the Munich-based spyware firm had shuttered its offices after quietly filing for insolvency this past February.

The company, which is known for its powerful and invasive malware “FinSpy,” has been under investigation by the German government since 2019 over allegations that it illegally sold spyware to the government of Turkey without acquiring the requisite export license. The spyware, which was allegedly used to monitor the phones of political activists in the country, is known for its ability to pilfer data and listen-in on mobile users.

The company’s implosion last month will likely affect German officials’ probe. At the time of the announced insolvency, authorities had been in the process of pursuing authorization to seize assets allegedly “obtained from an illegal act.” Though the investigation is ongoing, the asset seizure will no longer be possible, since the company no longer exists.

“Employees are no longer employed in the companies,” a German government administrator told the news outlet. “The business premises were abandoned in the course of the opening of insolvency proceedings and the location of the companies in Munich was dissolved, as there was no perspective of continuing business operations.”

Since its founding, FinFisher’s products have been sold to police and intelligence agencies throughout the world—including, allegedly, to repressive regimes. In 2012, the discovery of FinFisher’s malware on the phones of Bahraini activists spurred significant controversy—illustrating the invasive potential that the commercial surveillance industry had to offer.

The company really found itself in hot water in 2018, however, when the digital rights group Access Now published a report alleging the existence of FinFisher spyware on the phones of political activists in Turkey. In September of 2019, a number of advocacy groups brought a criminal complaint against the company in Germany accusing it of illegally selling spyware to the Turkish government. Though FinFisher officials denied the allegations, the German public prosecutor’s office subsequently opened a criminal investigation and, in October of 2020, German authorities raided over a dozen offices connected to the company, including apartments belonging to several of its executives.

FinFisher officials have maintained that the company’s products were never used for anything other than legitimate law enforcement purposes.

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