DOJ Describes Its Use Of Malware As 'Augmenting Content' As It Pushes For Great Ability To Hack Computers

from the augment-that-content dept

Over at the Wall Street Journal, there's a good article about the DOJ's push for greater powers to use malware and to hack into computers in pursuit of criminals. The key issue, as the DOJ sees it, is that it normally needs a warrant from a local judge in order to make use of a malware exploit -- and when you're talking about networked computers, it's not always clear what's local. Thus, at least one warrant request for installing malware has been rejected over privacy concerns when the physical location of a computer was unknown (other courts, however, have approved such warrants). Given that, the DOJ is seeking to expand the rules making it easier to use malware (and to use it across multiple computers, rather than just a single computer per warrant).

The article points to a massive 402 page document to the rule making body of the courts, in which it explains how it has used malware to find criminal suspects. Of course, this is the DOJ that we're talking about, so it's not going to come right out and say "hey, here's the malware we used and how we use it." Instead, as noted by the ACLU's Christopher Soghoian, the DOJ hides its description of malware on page 201 (smack dab in the middle of such a giant document) in a single paragraph using some rather incredible language:
In the normal course of operation, websites send content to visitors. A user's computer downloads that content and uses it to display web pages on the user's computer. Under the NIT authorized by this warrant, the website would augment that content with some additional computer instructions. When a computer successfully downloads those instructions from Website A, the instructions are designed to cause the "activating" computer to deliver certain information to a computer controlled by or known to the government. That information is described with particularity on the warrant (in Attachment B of this affidavit), and the warrant authorizes obtaining no other information. The NIT will not deny the user of the "activating" computer access to any data or functionality of that computer.
As Soghoian notes, if you blink, you might miss it. The DOJ calls its malware insertion man-in-the-middle attack by describing it as "augmenting" the content sought by the user "with some additional computer instructions." That's certainly one way to look at it, but you have to assume that less than technologically savvy judges aren't likely to understand what this means at all.
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Filed Under: augmenting content, doj, legal authority, malware, man in the middle, warrants


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  1. icon
    GEMont (profile), 30 Mar 2014 @ 2:13pm

    A False Rumor

    This is a 100% fake report, designed to show how the activities of the NSA are actually doing more harm than good, by forcing the NSA and its sister agencies to perform criminal acts in order to continue spying on their own people.

    ========================


    From Rooters News
    Dateline March 32, 2014

    It is hard to comprehend how the federal tri-letter agencies can participate in such unamerican activities as has been exposed by various means such as the Snowden files, and still maintain the facade that they do no harm - not only to their own employer's credibility, but to the nation's security as well.

    As more and more Americans begin to realize that much of what they took for granted as being directives of sound scientific reasoning - such as the national habit of leaving computers on 24/7 - are in reality, social engineering stunts perpetrated by the tri-letter agencies, at the behest of the federal government, designed to give the fed more access to the public's private information, more and more Americans are trying to circumvent such intrusion by whatever means are at their disposal, such as simply turning off their computers whenever they are no longer being used.

    And naturally, as more and more American citizens learn to turn their computers off when not in use, the tri-letter agencies have been doing their best to find new avenues into the treasure trove of personal data they have come to feel belongs to them, and to regain control of the army of computers they have been able to access and use secretly for so many years.

    Now word comes from un-named sources inside Microsoft, that NSA - in cahoots with MS - has begun using an ingenious bit of sleight-of-hand code to thwart this new trend in common sense among the members of what the Fed considers its private "public" resource base.

    Planted via regular MicroSoft updates, a new bit of cool code has been installed in most of the nation's PCs over the last 8-12 weeks, which simply intercepts the user's "power-down" command, and runs a fake shut-down scenario on screen, designed to convince the user that the PC is shutting down, while in reality, the PC is simply switching to "stealth" mode.

    The monitor is turned off, the drive light is turned off and any mother board or tower lights are turned off and the computer appears to be indeed totally shut down.

    Sleep mode is also mimmicked by the software, if that is the user's normal behaviour.

    The code runs a 6 day analysis of the user's normal shut down procedure before instituting its own fake shutdown scenario in order to best imitate the events the user would normally expect to see. Since the lights on modern external modems never really stop blinking on and off, the transfer of data is not apparent to the typical user who believes his computer has shut down.

    Once the stealth scenario goes into operation, a shutdown notification is sent to the NSA monitoring station in charge of stealth zombies, as soon as the user initiates a shut-down, so that the spooks' monitoring computers can immediately add the stealthed computer to their army of zombied PCs for use in everything from DDOS assaults on foreign systems to spoofing Tweets on Twitter. The contents of all such zombied computers are of course, routinely scanned for any tidbits of data that can be used to NSA's advantage later.

    Since the code is standard Microsoft machine code and installed by the user along with a normal update and runs only after the user has initiated the faked computer termination, it is virtually invisible and impossible for a normal user to detect by any means.

    Of course both the NSA and Microsoft have denied such code exists and both claim that the report is entirely bogus. Microsoft has gone so far as to claim that such code is indeed not possible to make, install or run.

    It just goes to show you that where there's a will, there is a way, and even if this code is not currently possible or in use, we are certain that it soon will be, if the national habit of shutting off PCs not in use, continues to escalate.

    By Smarmy Ersazt

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