The FBI’s capacity to wiretap has been updated for the digital age, with agents able to covertly activate suspects’ webcams and microphones in Android software to gather evidence.
New reports from the Wall Street Journal claims that law-enforcement officials employ tactics usually associated with hackers, including developing their own malware internally and infecting computers through the use of phishing attacks.
The WSJ’s claims come via a “former official in the agency’s cyber division” who says that these tactics are only used when agents “don’t have any other choice”.
The source reports that hacking tools such as these are most commonly deployed in cases involving organised crime, child pornography and counterterrorism. The FBI worries that if they were used against hackers themselves then the methods might be detected and publicised.
As well as remote installation, the bureau can also infect computers through physical means such as specially-prepared USB sticks.
Once data has been collected it is sifted by a screening team to ensure that only “relevant data” is passed on to the individuals working the case. However, defining what information might or might not be ‘relevant’ is obviouslydifficult and possibly irrelevant, as the data has already been collected.
The idea that one of the world’s most sophisticated intelligence agencies has surveillance capacities equal to those of a teenage hacker should not come as any surprise, but the precise methods involved - including turning users’ hardware against them – are especially sinister considering recent revelations.