11/21/2014 11:27 am ET Updated Nov 21, 2014

This Free Tool Scans Computers For Government Surveillance Software


A group of nonprofits has come together to help you take back your privacy.

A new, free tool called Detekt can scan your computer to find government spyware. Announced on Thursday, Detekt was created by security researcher Claudio Guarnieri in conjunction with Amnesty International; the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Digitale Gesellschaft, a German association dedicated to protecting people from Internet surveillance; and Privacy International, a charity that investigates government surveillance.

"What we really want to do is open up this whole discussion about this kind of malware and the companies who sell it and the governments who use it," Eva Galperin, global policy analyst for the EFF, told The Huffington Post in a phone call on Thursday. Galperin did a significant chunk of the research on surveillance that the software is meant to detect.

Detekt is not for the average Internet user, but rather it's "specifically about the threat that governments pose to activists and journalists, often in authoritarian regimes," Galperin said. These people can face significant risks if their web activities or files fall into the wrong hands.

“Governments are increasingly using dangerous and sophisticated technology that allows them to read activists and journalists’ private emails and remotely turn on their computer’s camera or microphone to secretly record their activities," Marek Marczynski, head of military, security and police for Amnesty International said in a press release on Thursday.

By contributing to Detekt's creation, Amnesty International said it hopes to increase awareness of surveillance issues and empower people to protect themselves. "The spyware that Detekt seeks to identify has become the latest weapon in the arsenal of tools that many governments around the world use to attack, intimidate and repress those they wish to silence," Tanya O'Carroll, technology and human rights adviser for Amnesty International, told HuffPost via email on Thursday. "That's why Amnesty has helped to launch Detekt with the hope that we can support human rights activists in our networks to test their devices and take defensive measures to protect themselves."

The spyware that Detekt is looking for often isn't found by regular antivirus software. You can download Detekt from its website for free, and it will scan your computer and let you know if it finds anything suspicious. It can take up to 30 minutes. After the scan is finished, you'll get a report about what (if anything) was found.

If something is detected, you might be in trouble. Detekt doesn't kill anything that it finds on your computer; it just alerts you. "The attacker will likely have remote-control access of your computer, meaning they can view not only your files and emails but everything you type on your keyboard and could even switch on your webcam and microphone remotely," Detekt's website explains.

Detekt is only for Windows computers. But if you're a concerned Mac user, don't fret. "The majority of the population that is being spied on by governments are using PCs," Galperin said. Detekt also can't review your smartphone, which can be a surveillance device. Galperin stressed that Detekt is not meant to be a replacement for antivirus or malware-detecting software.

An easier (but less effective) way to hide? Put tape over your webcam.