GCHQ open-sources its spy software

GCHQ open-sources its spy software
Credit: GCHQ Careers

GCHQ has open-sourced its first project on GitHub, a mass-scale graph database called Gaffer that’s written in Java.

This move has prompted a whole load of soul-searching in the hacker community as individuals debate whether they should use it or not.

Some have applauded the agency for opening up its work for the community to use and build on, while others have suggested that the project comes from an unethical place and should be rejected to protect the integrity of computer scientists.

The database can essentially be used for analyzing the internal relationships between different pieces of data.

This can be uploaded in bulk or fed continuously, perfect for identifying who talks to whom, or collating data about a single person, if you wanted to. You can also use the API to retrieve and filter specific bits of data you need.

It’s worth pointing out that as all of the agency’s activity is paid for using public money, it should really all be open-sourced anyway.

This is the case in the US, where government work of this kind is not subject to copyright, while in the UK copyright is retained by the Crown.

The software actually uses the Apache Accumulo codebase that was originally open-sourced by none other than the NSA. Gaffer is distributed under the Apache 2.0 licence.

The UK has been working hard on becoming a digital democracy since it launched its ‘digital by default’ agenda back in 2012 and so far 70 government bodies are using GitHub as a repository for their code.

People in the community are speculating whether this might be yet another way to source the best hackers in the land as GCHQ tries to hire 1,900 people to help it address security fears.

GovernmentCommunicationsHeadquarters/Gaffer [via Ars Technica]

Read next: Xros is like WhatsApp for your business and it's super-easy to use