Coinbase Acquires Neutrino, a Company With Deep Ties to Spyware

Coinbase Neutrino Acquisition Stirs Controversy and Privacy Concerns

“Two of Neutrino’s executive members oversaw the development of spyware sold to governments and law enforcement and founded Hacking Team”

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By Block Society

On February 19, 2019, Coinbase announced that it acquired Neutrino. Several executive members of Neutrino, including CEO Giancarlo Russo, CTOAlberto Ornaghi, and CRO Marco Valleri, oversaw the creation and sale of government spyware packages for Hacking Team.

In 2001, Alberto Ornaghi and Marco Valleri created Ettercap, a program that allows users to conduct man in the middle attacks, such as eavesdropping, password hacking and remote monitoring of computers. Originally an open source code marketed as way for companies to test the security of their network, the Ettercap program served as the basis for a new company focused on selling government suite spyware to governments and law enforcement agencies.

The Milan Police eventually contacted Ornaghi and Valleri to create a Windows driver for Ettercap so the Police department could monitor Skype calls. By 2013, they expanded to 40 employees and operated one of the first companies that sold commercial hacking software to law enforcement. They acquired customers in nearly 50 countries and six different continents.

Their first major product, Da Vinci, “enables law enforcement at federal, state, or local levels to collect heaps more data than the National Security Agency’s controversial PRISM program is reportedly capable of gathering. With Da Vinci, the police can monitor a suspect’s cell phone conversations, emails, and Skype calls, and even spy on the target through his or her webcam and microphone. It’s as if the investigator were standing behind a suspect using their computer.”

Several executive members of Neutrino, including CEO Giancarlo Russo, CTO Alberto Ornaghi, and CRO Marco Valleri, oversaw the creation and sale of government spyware packages for Hacking Team.

Hacking Team also formed an extremely close relationship with Saudi Arabia, whose Royal advisor, Saud Al-Qahtani, reached out to the organization in 2015 for a list of their services. Shortly after, Hacking Team found itself in financial distress following a report released by WikiLeaks. Saudi investors stepped in to help secure the companies future. Tablem Limited, a Cyprus based business owned by members of Al-Qahtani’s family, received a 20% ownership stake in 2016 after providing Hacking Team with a significant investment.
    The company’s spyware was allegedly used by regimes to persecute and silence opposition parties and journalists and sparked privacy concerns worldwide.
      After Coinbase announced the partnership, the hashtag #DeleteCoinbase started circulating social media channels as users sought to spread the potential negative privacy implications for Coinbase users. Additionally, some Coinbase users have faced issues deleting their accounts.
        Despite negative reactions, Coinbase has touted the move as a way to improve security, protect customers against hacking and to strengthen the overall safety of their platform. After several major attacks against exchanges like Cryptopia, Coinbase wanted to demonstrate a significant commitment to protecting customer funds.
          “Coinbase stated that “Neutrino will help us prevent theft of funds from peoples’ accounts, investigate ransomware attacks, and identify bad actors. It will also help us bring more cryptocurrencies and features to more people while helping ensure compliance with local laws and regulations.”
            Coinbase failed to publicly address customer concerns with Neutrino’s controversial past, including its known affiliations with authoritarian regimes and providing spyware used to monitor citizens and curtail civil liberties.

             

                 Proffitt, Michael. 28 February 2019. Notorious Spyware Creator Joining Forces with Coinbase Spells Doom for Your Privacy.         https://www.ccn.com/spyware-creator-join-coinbase-doom-privacy

             

             

            Jeffries, Adrianne. 13 September 2013. Meet Hacking Team, the Company That Helps Police Hack Into Computers. https://www.theverge.com/2013/9/13/4723610/meet-hacking-team-the-company-that-helps-police-hack-into-computers

             

            Ignatius, David. 7 December 2018. How a Chilling Saudi Cyberwar Ensnared Jamal Khashoggi. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/how-a-chilling-saudi-cyberwar-ensnared-jamal-khashoggi/2018/12/07/f5f048fe-f975-11e8-8c9a-860ce2a8148f_story.html?utm_term=.0c828149a515

             

             

            Cuen, Leigh. 1 March 2019. Angry Bitcoin Fans Delete Coinbase Accounts to Protest Neutrino Acquisition.https://www.coindesk.com/bitcoin-delete-coinbase-neutrino-crypto

             

            Srinivasan, Varun. 19 February 2019. Welcoming Neutrino to Coinbase. https://blog.coinbase.com/welcoming-neutrino-to-coinbase-b3f56171850d

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