Federal Agents Using Spyware
U.S. drug enforcement agents use key loggers to bypass both PGP and Hushmail encryption:
An agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration persuaded a federal judge to authorize him to sneak into an Escondido, Calif., office believed to be a front for manufacturing the drug MDMA, or Ecstasy. The DEA received permission to copy the hard drives' contents and inject a keystroke logger into the computers.
That was necessary, according to DEA Agent Greg Coffey, because the suspects were using PGP and the encrypted Web e-mail service Hushmail.com. Coffey asserted that the DEA needed "real-time and meaningful access" to "monitor the keystrokes" for PGP and Hushmail passphrases.
And the FBI used spyware to monitor someone suspected of making bomb threats:
In an affidavit seeking a search warrant to use the software, filed last month in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Washington, FBI agent Norman Sanders describes the software as a "computer and internet protocol address verifier," or CIPAV.
The full capabilities of the FBI's "computer and internet protocol address verifier" are closely guarded secrets, but here's some of the data the malware collects from a computer immediately after infiltrating it, according to a bureau affidavit acquired by Wired News.
- IP address
- MAC address of ethernet cards
- A list of open TCP and UDP ports
- A list of running programs
- The operating system type, version and serial number
- The default internet browser and version
- The registered user of the operating system, and registered company name, if any
- The current logged-in user name
- The last visited URL
Once that data is gathered, the CIPAV begins secretly monitoring the computer's internet use, logging every IP address to which the machine connects.
All that information is sent over the internet to an FBI computer in Virginia, likely located at the FBI's technical laboratory in Quantico.
Sanders wrote that the spyware program gathers a wide range of information, including the computer's IP address; MAC address; open ports; a list of running programs; the operating system type, version and serial number; preferred internet browser and version; the computer's registered owner and registered company name; the current logged-in user name and the last-visited URL.
The CIPAV then settles into a silent "pen register" mode, in which it lurks on the target computer and monitors its internet use, logging the IP address of every computer to which the machine connects for up to 60 days.
I've been saying this for a while: the easiest way to get at someone's communications is not by intercepting it in transit, but by accessing it on the sender's or recipient's computers.
EDITED TO ADD (7/20): I should add that the police got a warrant in both cases. This is not a story about abuse of police power or surveillance without a warrant. This is a story about how the police conducts electronic surveillance, and how they bypass security technologies.
Posted on July 20, 2007 at 6:52 AM • 45 Comments