Imagine if your government put a price tag on your privacy, acquiring shadowy surveillance technology that exploited your personal vulnerabilities.
Earlier this year, journalists at the Ethiopian Satellite Television Service (ESAT) were sent something sketchy. The Amsterdam-based TV channel holds itself up as an alternative to the country’s tightly controlled state-run media and regularly runs programming critical of Ethiopia’s ruling regime. As such, the station’s broadcasts in the country are regularly jammed by government censors, and a recent documentary aired on state-run TV urged Ethiopians not to participate in ESAT’s programming.
The first suspicious message arrived one afternoon via Skype to an ESAT employee in Belgium who was managing a company account. The message supposedly came from from Yalfalkenu Meches, a former contributor who had been out of contact for some time, and it included an attached file titled “An Article for ESAT” that raised a litany of red flags. It contained a veiled .exe file—the kind that triggers programs to start running on Windows machines and is the primary carrier of viruses—whose name included a long string of spaces designed to hide its true identity.