Law-enforcement officials are beefing up their use of tools to become more efficient at doing the thing that everyone knew they were doing all along, but then Edward Snowden confirmed, and in the process provided the international media with enough fodder to fill the news void of the summer months. A recent Wall Street Journal article confirms that “People familiar with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s programs say that the use of hacking tools under court orders has grown as agents seek to keep up with suspects who use new communications technology, including some types of online chat and encryption tools.”
A source close to the agency reveals in the piece that some of the FBI technology used for spying is homegrown, but for others it turns to the private sector. The demand appears to be so high for spy technology that an Italian company called HackingTeam SRL opened a sales office in Annapolis, Maryland just to keep up with the demand from law enforcement in North and South America. The company sells software that can, “extract information from phones and computers and can be sent to a monitoring system.”
Among the spy tools and techniques revealed in the piece are these gems:
1) Google will not confirm it, but spy software exists that can remotely tap into and record calls from cell phones, using Google Android software.
2) For almost a decade, the FBI has been using “web bugs” which are capable of collecting an IP address, a list of programs running on the computer and “other data.”
3) The NSA gathers bulk data on millions of Americans, but former U.S. officials say law-enforcement hacking is targeted at very specific cases and used sparingly.
4) In some cases, law-enforcement officials have had to physically gain access to computers to install malicious software using a thumb drive. This likely means breaking in.
5) Most often, officers install surveillance tools on computers remotely, using a document or link that loads software when the person clicks or views it, so bad guys have one more reason to beware of pop up ads and shady sounding Word doc files.
6) A court order for spying is often easier to get if it does not involve, “nobody is physically touching the suspect’s property.”
7) That camera built into your laptop may be watching you right now. In early 2013, a federal warrant was denied when a law enforcement agency attempted to “covertly take photos using a computer’s camera, according to court documents.”
Let us pry ourselves from hiding under the bed, enough to glimpse briefly again into the life of our favorite hero/traitor/form of escapism. Edward Snowden is reportedly adjusting well to life in Russia. He is said to be sampling local cuisine and growing accustomed to his new surroundings. Snowden’s father is meant to be visiting later this month. This summer’s shenanigans will have to make for a horribly awkward conversation when they go out for borscht.
A condition of Snowden’s asylum in Russia allows him to work in the country. As the 30-year-old is said to be running out of money, he appears to be mulling job prospects. Russia’s most popular social networking site VKontakte offered him a position in user data protection already, and Russian Parliament is rumored to be considering him for a job. Federation Council member Ruslan Gattarov is hoping to discuss Snowden’s “possible cooperation with a working group,” dealing with citizens’ privacy rights and personal data security.
Joel Mazmanian is a DC-area correspondent for The Blot.