FBI Increasingly Using Malware To Remotely Turn On Phone/Laptop Microphones

from the that-seems-problematic dept

It's not a secret that the FBI has used hacking methods in the past to spy on suspected criminals, including keyloggers and remotely turning on microphones in mobile phones, in order to spy on suspected criminals. However, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the FBI has been ramping up these efforts, specifically hiring hackers and purchasing hacker tools to be able to do more such things.
Federal agencies have largely kept quiet about these capabilities, but court documents and interviews with people involved in the programs provide new details about the hacking tools, including spyware delivered to computers and phones through email or Web links—techniques more commonly associated with attacks by criminals.

[....] The FBI develops some hacking tools internally and purchases others from the private sector. With such technology, the bureau can remotely activate the microphones in phones running Google Inc.'s Android software to record conversations, one former U.S. official said. It can do the same to microphones in laptops without the user knowing, the person said.
The report also notes things like using a computer's camera to take photos -- though, in the one case where this tactic was requested, the judge nixed the request, worried that it might lead to the collection of info on innocent people. There's also this wonderful line:
The bureau has controls to ensure only "relevant data" are scooped up, the person said. A screening team goes through all of the data pulled from the hack to determine what is relevant, then hands off that material to the case team and stops working on the case.
Considering how we've already seen the feds redefine "relevant," that seems kind of laughable.

Of course, if you're a computer hacker, you might be safe:
The bureau typically uses hacking in cases involving organized crime, child pornography or counterterrorism, a former U.S. official said. It is loath to use these tools when investigating hackers, out of fear the suspect will discover and publicize the technique, the person said.
So, um, if you want to avoid such things, I guess you should get busy hacking.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    silverscarcat (profile), Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 11:13am

    So...

    The U.S. government basically has said that computer hacking is not a crime.

    Sweet! Time to hack the stock market.

     

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

  2.  
    icon
    Mark Harrill (profile), Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 11:19am

    CFAA

    How are these actions not a violation of the CFAA and why aren't criminal cases being brought against the FBI?

     

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

  3.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 11:49am

    including spyware delivered to computers and phones through email or Web links—techniques more commonly associated with attacks by criminals.

    Commonly associated? They are attacks from criminals. And the criminals now are law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Now who judges the judge?

     

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

  4.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 11:53am

    Also

    The bureau has controls to ensure only "relevant data" are scooped up, the person said. A screening team goes through all of the data pulled from the hack to determine what is relevant, then hands off that material to the case team and stops working on the case.

    For those that thought it's just metadata welcome to the next step.

     

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

  5.  
    icon
    silverscarcat (profile), Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 11:59am

    Re:

    The only difference between a cop and a crook is the badge.

     

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

  6. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 12:13pm

    Latest Chrome Browser Can Activate Webcams

     

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

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 12:16pm

    Re:

    The person who kills them, be they madman, vigilante or crusader.

     

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

  8.  
    icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 12:18pm

    Re: Latest Chrome Browser Can Activate Webcams

    Hey, stupid, did you actually follow through the links from your original link? If you had, you'd find this:

    "Second, as great a headline as it might be to say “Google is spying on you with your own webcam!” this sensationalism would be no more true than saying that Adobe or Microsoft have been spying on you for years. They haven’t been.

    Once you get past the scary headlines that are bound to pop up, like, “Google Switches On Browser Spy Cam in Chrome” (on MSNBC), you will realize that (on a security level) not much has changed. Once you have a plugin like Flash enabled in your browser, it becomes a bolted-on part of your computing environment, no more or less secure than if the same functionality were native to your browser."

    Funny, the article you ultimately linked to called you an idiot. Nicely done, dumbass....

     

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

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 12:19pm

    Re: Re:

    The crooks are smarter

     

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

  10.  
    icon
    gorehound (profile), Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 12:20pm

    I have no Webcam nor do I have any Microphones in my Rig and I keep it that way.
    I also only use a fliptop phone and refuse to buy into any kind of smart phone.
    My home rig is VPN'd and other stuff too.
    Not that that all stops the spying lying Gov but I do my part to keep my shit private.

     

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

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 12:21pm

    Re:

    I assume relevant = incriminating, and any data that suggests innocence is discarded. I.e. conversations that suggest bonb building, but get rid of any that demonstrate that the people are working on a film plot.

     

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

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 12:23pm

    I'd pay more

    for a cellphone that had an led that lit up whenever the microphone was powered up (i.e. the led is not accessible independently through the software).

     

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

  13.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 12:24pm

    Re: Latest Chrome Browser Can Activate Webcams

    When you think surveillance, think Google!


    Your obsession with Google's spying is incredibly odd, but this tagline makes me think that perhaps you're engaging in an intentional deception. It appears to me that you are trying to distract from the really serious surveillance threats by getting people to focus on one of the lesser ones.

    I'm genuinely curious about this. Why do you think Google is a bigger threat than the government?

     

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

  14.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 12:27pm

    Re:

    I also only use a fliptop phone and refuse to buy into any kind of smart phone


    This does not prevent your phone from being used to eavesdrop on you, by the way. Using phones in this way predates smartphones.

     

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

  15.  
    icon
    RyanNerd (profile), Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 12:31pm

    I, Robot

    1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    2) A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

    I guess even Asimov's laws of Robotics will not save us from the FBI.

     

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

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 12:34pm

    The report also notes things like using a computer's camera to take photos -- though, in the one case where this tactic was requested, the judge nixed the request [...]

    The bureau typically uses hacking in cases involving [...] child pornography [...]

    Sounds to me like they turned on the wrong camera and now no one dares to look anymore for fear of another lemon party incident.

     

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

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 12:46pm

    Re: CFAA

    Laws apply to the serfs, not the lords and those who keep them im power, that why.

     

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

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 1:08pm

    Recently I replaced the screen on a laptop. Since laptops are designed around aesthetics rather than repairability, this of course required me to take literally the entire thing apart. When I was reassembling it, I was having a lot of trouble getting the little webcam-microphone unit to fit under the bezel properly, until I realized that I never actually used it and just took it out entirely.

    Your move, FBI.

     

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

  19.  
    icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 1:13pm

    Re:

    "Your move, FBI"

    In unrelated news today, the FBI testified before Congress that there is need of a new law mandating webcams installed on all new and existing computer systems, phones, and toilets. Mitch McConnell sponsored the new legislation, entitled the "How's That, Anonymous Coward Act Of Two-Thousand And Go Fuck Yourself".

    President Obama has promised to sign the act should Congress send it to his desk. He's also promised to sleep through the hearing tomorrow on the NSA's abuses, because accountability makes him have to go poopy....

     

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

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 1:16pm

    Re: So...

    Nah it's the ole "Do as we say, not as we do" argument.

     

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

  21.  
    icon
    rangda (profile), Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 1:17pm

    Re:

    Obviously you will be arrested for felony interference of an investigation (a very similar crime to felony interference of a business model).

     

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

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 1:31pm

    Re: CFAA

    One of the perks when you have to decide whether to arrest yourself or not.

     

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

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 1:39pm

    Re: Re:

    Great, now I'm laughing in my cubicle.

     

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

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 1:42pm

    This is why everything needs to be Free and Open Source Software, including the microcode embedded in hardware firmware.

     

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

  25.  
    identicon
    JJ, Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 1:49pm

    Re: So...

    too late.. HFT has been here for a while

     

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

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 3:25pm

    So, um, if you want to avoid such things, I suggest you not use a laptop or anything that goes "Droiiiiiid".
    FTFY

     

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

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 3:27pm

    The FBI is using Kali Linux.

     

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

  28.  
    icon
    Mega1987 (profile), Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 4:17pm

    government gone to crime?

    What did I read here!?

    A Government have gone into crime to fight a crime?

    That would only work with games and anime with some bunny ear lawyers... Not in real life....

    I think getting a opensource is better than a branded one...

     

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

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 4:56pm

    Fraudulent Spam From FBI Director Mueller

    How many of you remember the Nigerian 419 spam claiming to be from FBI Director Mueller?
    We have become aware of a bogus spam e-mail claiming to be from FBI Director Robert Mueller III. This scam appears to be a typical Nigerian scam…

    The first e-mail claims to be from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III. It advises recipients that they are the beneficiary of a large sum of money…

    Well, guess what… It wasn't a hoax after all.

    That spam really came FBI Director Mueller. He sent it himself.

     

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

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2013 @ 5:11pm

    Hardwired LED

    The OLPC had a hardwired LED on its camera and microphone, such that there was no way to turn on either without lighting up the corresponding LED. This was enforced by the hardware, so there was no way for malware to bypass it.

     

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

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2013 @ 6:07am

    Re: Re: Latest Chrome Browser Can Activate Webcams

    Hay dumn ass!

    Google is a subcontractor to the NSA making HSA top dog in the NSA and Google, Yahoo, Microsoft criminal organization dedicated to monopoly and world totalitarianism.

     

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

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Aug 3rd, 2013 @ 7:23am

    Re: Re: Re: Latest Chrome Browser Can Activate Webcams

    "Hay dumn ass"? Oh, the irony...

     

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

  33.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Aug 3rd, 2013 @ 6:55pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    More honest about it too.

     

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

  34.  
    icon
    MikeC (profile), Aug 4th, 2013 @ 8:26am

    Not Too worried

    As I am an ugly cuss not sure if they win if that activate my phone cam or laptop cam, but a piece or two of electrical tape fixes all that.

    But as to bigger problem,(mentioned before by a host of others) even with computer screening, there is simply too much information for them to scan. How many secret clearances can they give out .. sounds like a business opportunity ... but more so it makes abuse even more likely since the cherry pick who they want to target.

    But wait until it's a federal crime to circumvent the surveillance equipment they might want to use? The logical outcome of this if you look at the current laws. Not make them equip it, but like emissions certifications car inspections.

     

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

  35.  
    icon
    Bergman (profile), Aug 4th, 2013 @ 2:04pm

    It may take a thief to catch a thief, but the FBI seems to be taking that old bit of wisdom a bit too much to heart of late.

     

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

  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2013 @ 4:26pm

    One more reason to turn off the webcam and mic on the laptop.

     

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

  37.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Aug 4th, 2013 @ 6:58pm

    Re:

    That wouldn't do much good, considering this article is about the FBI's ability to turn them on.

     

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

  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2013 @ 9:34am

    Re: Re:

    You could use the "manual override" and smash your webcam with a hammer.

     

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

  39.  
    identicon
    Atwas911, Aug 5th, 2013 @ 9:35am

    Re: CFAA

    Because they will FUCKING KILL YOU if you try.

     

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


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