The Drug Enforcement Agency has been spending millions on spyware tools to take over suspects' phones, according to an exclusive report from Motherboard. Government records show the agency paying $2.4 million for a "remote control system" that could be implanted in a suspect's phone. Once the phone is infected, the spyware can record texts, emails, passwords, and even nearby conversations through the onboard microphone. The use of spyware by law enforcement is controversial, and while officials typically need a warrant before deploying the programs, some agencies have ignored that requirement in the past.
The source of the spyware is even more controversial. The records show the DEA purchasing the spyware from Cicom USA, but Motherboard's sources say Cicom is simply a reseller for products made by Hacking Team, an Italian spyware contractor that began marketing to US agencies in 2011. The group is infamous in security circles for injecting targeted malware into YouTube and Microsoft Live services, and has sold to governments in Morocco, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates.