Secret SARS unit spied on cellphones

Members of the rogue SARS unit accused of using software to spy on the computer activities of its targets have confessed to setting up R800,000 worth of spying equipment – including software to track cellphone use.

According to a report by the Sunday Times, two members of the unit have submitted affadavits in the case against the unit, confessing to receiving R900,000 to spy on members of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

The affidavits also implicate senior prosecutors and former Scorpions officials, the report said, stating further that the spying activities were under orders from former deputy commissioner, Ivan Pillay.

The illegal operation was code-named “Project Sunday Evenings”, and was allegedly set up to spy on and monitor senior NPA members investigating former police chief, Jackie Selebi.

The rogue SARS members confessed to being paid R900,000 and R250,000 to buy surveillance equipment, R800,000 of which was spent on “overt and conceiled cameras with digital video recorders and microphones” that could be operated remotely.

Also used was “remote viewing software” for use in cellphones.

The members were allegedly told to pocket the remaining cash, which constitutes a bribe, the Sunday Times reported.

The rogue SARS unit was previously reported to have used a surveillance software suite known as FinFisher to spy on the computer activities of its targets.

FinFisher can collect screenshots, logs of keystrokes, audio from Skype calls, passwords, and other data.

FinFisher spyware being used in South Africa was first alluded to in April 2013 when Citizen Lab released a report saying that command and control (C&C) servers for the software were detected on Telkom’s network.

KPMG is currently investigating the SARS unit and its activites, with possible criminal charges on the cards for those involved.

The full story can be read in the Sunday Times (17 May 2015)

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Secret SARS unit spied on cellphones