A cyber-surveillance company believes a government may have been behind a massive hack of its systems that saw huge chunks of its code stolen.
Italian firm Hacking Team has been making surveillance software for 12 years that allows law enforcement and intelligence agencies to tap into the phones and computers of suspects. The company was named as one of five "Corporate Enemies of the Internet" in a 2012 report by Reporters Without Borders.
Last week, unknown hackers downloaded 400GB of data from the firm, including thousands of private corporate emails as well as the source code of a number of its top-secret programs.
"Given its complexity, I think that the attack must have been carried out at a government level or by someone who has huge funds at their disposal," David Vincenzetti, the CEO of Hacking Team, told Sunday's La Stampa newspaper. He did not speculate as to which government may have been involved.
Much of the data has been dumped onto the Wikileaks website and the company has advised clients to stop using its programs until they can patch the compromised software. They have further warned that any computer system using the technology may now be vulnerable.
"Hacking Team's investigation has determined that sufficient code was released to permit anyone to deploy the software against any target of their choice," the company said in a statement on its website. "Terrorists, extortionists and others can deploy this technology at will if they have the technical ability to do so."
The leaked emails show that the Hacking Team worked with numerous state institutions in various countries, including Italy, the USA and Australia, but it also had dealings with countries criticised for their human rights records, such as Libya, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
Vincenzetti defended his choice of clients, saying he had never broken international trade law, and adding that when his firm realised Ethiopia was using its software to spy on a journalist, it asked for an explanation and then ended the contract.