A new report by CitizensLab has shown that Nigeria’s Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) acquired equipment to spy on calls and text messages of Nigerians.
The latest report, “Running in Circles: Uncovering the Clients of Cyberespionage Firm Circles,” shows that Nigeria’s primary military intelligence agency may have been spying on calls made by Nigerians.
The DIA reports directly to the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.
CitizensLab, an interdisciplinary laboratory which focuses on investigating digital espionage against civil society, discovered that the DIA and another body in Nigeria had acquired Signaling System 7 (SS7), a protocol suite developed for exchanging information and routing phone calls between different wireline telecommunications companies.
The group suggests DIA had bought the system from Circles, a surveillance firm that reportedly exploits weaknesses in the global mobile phone system to snoop on calls, texts, and the location of phones.
“Our scanning identified two Circles systems in Nigeria. One system may be operated by the same entity as one of the Nigerian customers of the FinFisher spyware that we detected in December 2014.
“The firewall IPs are in the same /27 as the IP address of the FinFisher C&C server we detected in our 2014 scans (18.104.22.168),” the report read in part.
The address on the website of DIA indicates the agency is at the Federal Secretariat Complex, Phase II, Shehu Shagari Way, Three Arms Zone, Abuja, but according to CitizensLab, “the other client appears to be the Nigerian Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), as its firewall IPs are in AS37258, a block of IP addresses registered to HQ Defence Intelligence Agency Asokoro, Nigeria, Abuja.” The IP trace is however about 12 minutes drive from the secretariat.
Since 2015, the spy device has been active under President Buhari, just after the Nigerian leader assumed office in June.
Buhari also inaugurated the National Command and Control Centre in 2019 as well as the first phase of the Nigeria Police Crime and Incident Database Centre, and electronic surveillance vehicles to maintain order in the country.
Members of civil society in the country continue to face a wide range of digital threats, with a recent report by Front Line Defenders stating that Nigeria’s government “has conducted mass surveillance of citizens’ telecommunications.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also reported multiple cases of the Nigerian government abusing phone surveillance.
Other countries who CitizensLab suggests may have acquired this equipment are Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Chile, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Serbia, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Vietnam, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
By Abel Ejikeme