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Gallery of Surveillance

Surveillance is an imperceptible threat. For years, exposés of the targeted surveillance of human rights defenders, journalists and activists have made into the news, revealing how technology has become a tool in the arsenal of oppressive states to crush dissent.

Spyware, often developed by Western companies and sold to the highest bidders, is recurrently used to silently and invisibly infect computers and mobile phones, in order to record every conversation and track every move of those fighting for freedom and democracy.

These technologies are meant to be stealthy and remain unnoticed. They are designed to escape attention and accountability for as long as possible. The apparent immateriality of spyware makes it unrelatable to the larger public, but, as with any other software, governmental spyware is also an architecture of bytes. It is a living digital being that someone, somewhere, sometime, created with some thousands of lines of code.

This project aims to create a sensorial experience of these spy technologies through visuals and sounds, in an attempt to deconstruct the power of the watchers and tell the stories of their victims. Walking through some of the most prominent and outrageous cases of digital surveillance of human rights defenders, you will be able to see and hear the spyware used by governments around the world.

Keylogger module of the Crimson malware, used to spy on human rights defenders in Pakistan.
Diep SaeedaPakistan
Ahmed MansoorUAE
Hisham AlmiraatMorocco
Ala'a ShehabiBahrain

What is Spyware?

Spyware is malicious software designed for the specific purpose of invisibly collecting information from infected computers or mobile devices. Spyware is normally delivered through well-crafted messages on social media or emails that attempt to lure the victim into unknowingly activating the infection. Often, spyware is disguised as pictures or documents that might be of particular personal or professional interest of the victim.

If successfully installed, spyware is able to monitor and record everything the victim is doing with the infected device. For example, it might the able to record everything typed through the keyboard, steal files and passwords, record conversations through applications like Skype, and, in the case of spyware for smartphones, also track the victim's physical location, record phone calls and SMS messages, and activate the microphone and record the surroundings.

What are these visuals and audio?

The images and animations are visualizations of actual copies of spyware used against human rights defenders around the world. They are generated algorithmically through a software I have created using the creative coding frameworks Processing and openFrameworks. The algorithm used is an N-gram visualization that I have first seen used in an open source security tool called binglide, and further developed by veles. This technique shows the intrinsic relationship between the bytes that compose the binary of the spyware. Different computer architectures and programming languages used to create the spyware and the creator's style will influence the appearance of the visualization.

The audio segments are modulated waves generated directly from the copies of spyware displayed. As you'll notice, there is structure and meaning in the sound as well, which often reflects the patterns and the mechanical properties of the visuals.