The damaging data breach that exposed the secrets of an infamous surveillance tech company might go unsolved forever. After more than two years, the Italian prosecutor who was investigating the attack on the Milan-based Hacking Team has asked the case to be dismissed, according to multiple sources.
On Monday, the Milan prosecutor Alessandro Gobbis sent a notice to the people under investigation informing them that he had sent the judge a request to shut down the investigation, according to a copy of the document obtained by Motherboard.
A leaked screenshot of page one of the notice sent to people under investigation. (Image: Motherboard)
In July of 2015, hackers broke into the servers of Hacking Team, a company that sells surveillance and hacking tools to governments around the world. A hacker only going by the name Phineas Fisher claimed responsibility for the hack, saying he did it to punish Hacking Team and its customers, who had repeatedly been caught using the company’s products to spy on dissidents and human rights defenders.
Since then, the investigation by the Italian authorities has been carried out in relative secrecy. But some details leaked. As Motherboard reported at the time, the prosecutors focused their efforts on four former employees, after someone accused them of being implicated.
The names of the four former employees—Alberto Pelliccione, Guido Landi, Mostapha Maanna, and Alex Velasco—all appear in Monday’s notice. The authorities suspected them of being behind the hack. By notifying them that the investigation is being shut down, the prosecutors are essentially telling them that they are not suspects anymore.
“It was due,” Landi told me via Twitter direct message, reacting to the news, which lets him and his former colleagues effectively off the hook. “In fact, it was overdue.”
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The notice also mentions one Jon Fariborz Davachi, an American citizen of Iranian descent who allegedly paid for the server that was used to attack Hacking Team, according to the Italian daily newspaper Corriere Della Sera. The name of Davachi had not been published before and his role or alleged role in the attack at this point is unclear. The newspaper reports that Italian authorities had even obtained an arrest warrant for him but the US Department of State blocked it.
Davachi told Motherboard that he had nothing to do with the attack on Hacking Team, and explained that the FBI came knocking on his door “several months ago” with a search warrant and confiscated all his “computers and electronics.”
“I’ve never heard of Hacking Team, I have had no part in such operation,” Davachi told me in a chat message. “What I summed up from the FBI line of questioning was that there was a Bitcoin transaction trail that ended up setting up a server to steal user credentials, is what it sounded like to me. I was thinking somebody had set up some type of phishing scam to to steal bank info or user ID passwords or something, the FBI wouldn’t exactly tell me what they were investigating.”
Davachi said he wasn’t sure why he became a target of the investigation, saying ”they came to me because I was probably the only identifiable person along the trail of bitcoin transactions.”
“So now I know,” Davachi added. “Maybe now I can ask if I can get my computers back.”
Hacking Team now has 20 days to appeal the decision and request the investigation to go on.
Hacking Team did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the prosecutor’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.
This article was updated to include Davachi’s quotes.
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