How The FBI's Desire To Wiretap Every New Technology Makes Us Less Safe

from the can-you-hear-me-now? dept

Here they go again. Every year or so we end up writing about the FBI's desire for better wiretapping capabilities for new technologies, such as Skype. Basically, the FBI argues that because "bad guys" might use those tools to communicate in secret, they need backdoors to make sure that they can keep tabs on the bad guys.

But they're forgetting something: the FBI isn't necessarily the only one who will get access to those backdoors. In fact, by requiring backdoors to enable surveillance on all sorts of systems, the FBI is almost guaranteeing that the bad guys will use those backdoors for their own nefarious purposes. It's not security, it's anti-security.

This is why claims by the feds that we need cybersecurity legislation, like CISPA or the Cybersecurity Act, ring hollow. If they really wanted more protected networks, they wouldn't keep asking for specific security holes to be explicitly added to those networks.

Two decades ago, the FBI complained it was having trouble tapping the then-latest cellphones and digital telephone switches. After extensive FBI lobbying, Congress passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) in 1994, mandating that all telephone switches include FBI-approved wiretapping capabilities.

CALEA was justifiably controversial, not least because its requirement for “backdoors” across our communications infrastructure seemed like a security nightmare: How could we keep criminals and foreign spies from exploiting weaknesses in the new wiretapping features? Would we even be able to detect them when they did?

Those fears were soon borne out. In 2004, a mysterious someone — the case was never solved — hacked the wiretap backdoors of a Greek cellular switch to listen in on senior government officials … including the prime minister.

Think this could only happen abroad? Some years ago, the U.S. National Security Agency discovered that every telephone switch for sale to the Department of Defense had security vulnerabilities in their mandated wiretap implementations. Every. Single. One.

Somehow, the FBI always thinks that if there are backdoors, only it will use them. That is extreme wishful thinking.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 9:01am

    Somehow, the FBI always thinks that if there are backdoors, only it will use them. That is extreme wishful thinking.

    Says the agency that creates and stops their own fantasy terrorism plots. A few questions come to mind then: should we really give a damn to what they say? Should they really exist if they have to CREATE their own plots and threats to stay relevant?

     

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  2.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 10:05am

    Re:

    "should we really give a damn to what they say?"

    What we should be asking is how soon they will be stopping their own Forrest Gump hacker plots?

     

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  3.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 10:37am

    If you could just leave your backdoor open, just in case we ever need to come into your house and look for illegal activity, that'd be great.

     

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  4.  
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    Sean Murphy (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 10:38am

    Sure, you can lock the door to your house to keep crooks out, but only the front door. The back door needs to stay open so the cops can come in and look for crooks.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 10:39am

    'the FBI always thinks that if there are backdoors, only it will use them. That is extreme wishful thinking'

    you might think it's extreme wishful thinking, i call it out and out stupidity! how anyone, let alone what is supposed to be a top level law enforcement agency, charged with and, at least in part, responsible for the protection and well being of the citizens as well as the country, can possibly believe this is beyond me! anything (and i mean anything) that is made/invented by man can be broken by man. it's just that sometimes it takes longer than others! having a purposefully, partially broken invention gives perpetrators an open invitation and a head start

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 10:41am

    I always wondered where that extra piece of string was going....

    I used to communicate with my neighbor via 'high tech' methods (tin can's with a string attached that was strung between our bedroom windows), now I know what that extra string running up to the telephone pole was....

    Early FBI mandated communication 'backdoor'....

     

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  7.  
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    Jeremy Lyman (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 10:54am

    I don't understand why physical bank vaults don't have to have a second door made of wood that's accessible from the outside of the building. Surely bad guys could use a bank to store their bad guy things; the Feds should be able to get in there and check it out. For SAFETY!

     

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  8.  
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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 11:07am

    Earlier example

    Didn't Kevin Mitnick tap into the phone system of the agents attempting to track him?

     

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  9.  
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    ECA (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 11:15am

    really??

    The SMARTER the phone, the Dumber the person using it..
    You need to PROTECT your data, its a STUPID computer in your hands..Virus/bots and the WHOLE thing.. NOW you want to add another BUG??

    Ever wonder why they use Throw away phones on TV shows?? DUMB phones cant tell on you.. iF YOU WANT TO SWAP SECRETS, WHY are you using a PHONE?

    ANYONE here understand the word WIRELESS, and the problems associated with it??
    Yes, type on that Nice wireless keyboard, and Anyone within 30 feet can READ IT, with the right program.. NO security needed.
    BEFORE they installed LINK security, you could have 4+ people all listening on a wireless headsets to your Wireless BT, Music device..(RIAA didnt like that)

    Anyone read the story about Home depot and the registers, all wireless and NOT ENCRYPTED??(they had fun with that)

    What these guys WANT, is that Each phone sends a NOTE, of the phones NUMBER/ID..the rest of the data can already be read, but they CANT tell who is saying WHAT. Then ADD to it the GPS data of the phone and you can track ANYONE..

     

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  10.  
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    shane (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 11:21am

    Hehe

    I haven't read a post in days but that you're not the first responder. You ever sleep? =)

     

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  11.  
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    fuck you all, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 11:21am

    Sony rootkit

    ya know hackers knew of the way that software hid itself for 4 years ...we always know and were much better now at not telling you considering the 3 billion years in prison we all would get for being nice.

     

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  12.  
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    shane (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 11:26am

    I like Jeremy Lyman

    It's not our job to make it easier for the government to spy on protect us.

     

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  13.  
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    Michael, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 11:27am

    FBI

    The FBI has been tapping us all in the backdoor for years.

     

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  14.  
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    Canadian, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 11:29am

    The future will do away with all these problems when they start implanting newborns with thought filters that explode the head when impure thoughts happen.

     

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  15.  
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    yapee, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 11:33am

    Sed quis custodiet ipsos Custodes?
    I just had to - fortune(6) gave me that one immediately after reading this article.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 11:38am

    How long do you think it will take to be hacked into? A day or less most likely. How long before that gets leaked into the public domain? Since it would be so huge there will be plenty of hackers hacking away at it all at once. A handful of the ones that get through will end up doing a few things.

    A few will sell it.
    A few might sit it on.
    A few will leak it to cause chaos. "My favorite option! It's what I would do to teach the bastards a lesson."

    Now you have a open backdoor which software companies are forced to patch so they can be re-cracked in another day and the cycle will go on till they tell the FBI to kindly go fuck themselves.

    There are plenty of whiz kids out there that have a gift far greater than most of us will ever even begin to dream of. They can look at it and instantly know how to fuck it up.

    Like me plenty others can mess with shit over time but it's nothing compared to the people with a natural gift. Most of the coders for these companies DO NOT have that gift. Even if they all did there will always be someone out there to see something they did not.

    These backdoors will end up being used for plenty of malicious activities. Not only that they will be abused for anonymity that will turn out to be a free tool handed out by the FBIs stupidity.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 11:41am

    Considering how much hardware is made in China, and the software installed there, it is a program to allow the Chines to spy on everyone including Americans.

     

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  18.  
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    Sean Murphy (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 11:49am

    Re:

    There are plenty of whiz kids out there that have a gift far greater than most of us will ever even begin to dream of. They can look at it and instantly know how to fuck it up.


    And enough of them will share how it's done that soon everybody will know. Pirate bay proxies all over again, which is just DRM all over again.

     

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  19.  
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    Beech, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 12:01pm

    Wishful Thinking

    "Somehow, the FBI always thinks that if there are backdoors, only it will use them. That is extreme wishful thinking."

    I don't think that that's the case at all. I think the FBI doesn't CARE if anyone else uses them. This is how highly they regard your privacy. After all, if you're innocent you have nothing to hide, if you have nothing to hide why would you care if anyone (FBI agent, hacker, your mom, etc) listened in on your every conversation?

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 12:07pm

    Think like Law Enforcement

    If the Backdoors were put in for LE, then if they catch a non-LE using them they can arrest them. Only thing, they couldn't catch them because monitoring the backdoor is difficult or illegal. Wouldn't want to tip off the criminals who are being monitored and when they do pick up on it, they had to break a few laws to detect the surveillance. All in order to build a weak ass case.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 12:11pm

    Re:

    Honestly, why? How could this possibly benefit them in the long term?

    They are an economic powerhouse because of their cheap manufacturing, it'd be rather stupid of them to jeopordize that for some mass spying program that would have very very questionable benefits.

    Besides with policies like the one highlighted here being adopted if they want to do mass spying, they can just piggy back off the work of the Americans... No need to put any effort of their own into such a program.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 12:20pm

    Re: Re:

    "they can just piggy back off the work of the Americans"


    That was my point!

     

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  23.  
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    ltlw0lf (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 12:44pm

    Re: Sony rootkit

    ya know hackers knew of the way that software hid itself for 4 years ...we always know and were much better now at not telling you considering the 3 billion years in prison we all would get for being nice.

    Well, I would have called shenanigans on this, but considering that one company tried to have me fired for exposing their back-door, I have to find myself looking for the sad-but-true button. Why the folks at Sony that did this aren't sitting in jail, and the company isn't paying huge fines, is beyond me.

     

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  24.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 12:47pm

    Even so

    Somehow, the FBI always thinks that if there are backdoors, only it will use them.


    Even if they're right in this thinking (and they're not), it still wouldn't make the situation any more tenable. History shows us that the FBI (or any other TLA) cannot be trusted with wholesale access to our communications.

     

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  25.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 12:50pm

    Re: Re:

    Honestly, why? How could this possibly benefit them in the long term?


    Why does any nation engage in stupid behavior that is virtually guaranteed to hurt them in the long run? Or, to ask it a different way, every other nation does stupid things that hurt them, why would China be the exception?

     

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  26.  
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    Beta (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 1:48pm

    basic economics, again

    If you're in the FBI, you don't get ahead by encouraging the development of secure networks. You get ahead by busting bad guys. Think about that for a moment.

     

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  27.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 2:34pm

    Re: Re: Sony rootkit

    That would be: Money and the high-court/low-court 'justice' system. Have enough of the first, and you never have to worry about dealing with the latter.

     

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  28.  
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    jee, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 2:42pm

    Re: basic economics, again

    Creating Bad Guys for Dummies

    with a free companion desktop guide : Creating a WEB of LAW to Catch Bad Guys for Dummies

    and a 20% off coupon for the up and coming sure to be a best-seller : Defending Fascism from Patriots for Dummies

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 3:06pm

    Re: #4

    But if they are TSA Cops, you have to worry about them walking out with the silverware and any IPads left laying about.

     

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  30.  
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    ltlw0lf (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 4:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: Sony rootkit

    That would be: Money and the high-court/low-court 'justice' system. Have enough of the first, and you never have to worry about dealing with the latter.

    That or a boss that believes in computer security and doesn't believe in security solely through obscurity. They could have prosecuted me for it, though I don't know what grounds they could have done so since it was "my" device (it was my employer's device, and I was authorized to test the security of the device) and I found the backdoor through honest means (protip, never use the name of your company as the url-path for your unauthenticated/unencrypted backdoor, and never try to obscure the path by adding an underscore after someone finds your backdoor. And a better protip is to not include a unauthenticated/unencrypted backdoor in the first place.)

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 5:24pm

    You can listen to phone conversations with a scanner. I do it all the time.

     

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  32.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Jan 15th, 2013 @ 6:47pm

    The comments above disturb me, especially when it shows that none of you care about the foreign programmers who would become rich off designing programs that have no backdoors, nor are legally required to have backdoors and could then sell to USA citizens at major profits.

    Won't someone think about the non USA programmers... (well other than the FBI who strangely seem to want nothing more than to help any country other than the USA attain economic success)

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2013 @ 6:48pm

    Honestly, I don't think the discussion should be about the FBI's wishful thinking or their fantasy attacks, Forest Gump hackers or why we listen at what they say but more why we still choose, i.e.: vote, idiots to represent us, the people, who DO listen to those morons and give them what they want...

     

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  34.  
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    emelio lizardo, Jan 16th, 2013 @ 4:01am

    Not to mention all of the evil governments that want a communications back door to do their own evil.

     

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  35.  
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    bugmenot (profile), Nov 29th, 2013 @ 12:13am

    There are 2 sides of any coin. It can makes us more secure in one way and vulnerable in other way.

    Meditiation

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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