Following Edward Snowden’s NSA-related leaks, government intrusion into one’s data via the technology that permeates our lives has been a hot-topic issue (again), spurring other leaks and anonymous statements of arguably less grand proportions. One such example is a report by The Wall Street Journal this evening, which spoke to former U.S. officials and sources familiar with technology they say the FBI uses to spy on suspects.
The information comes from different sources said to be familiar with methods the FBI uses to gather data from the cyber sphere, as well as court documents that reveal some of these investigative tools. According to these sources, the use of spyware and other similar software via court order is increasing, perhaps not surprising considering the increasing rate of technology adoption.
The means of spying covers a wide range of methods, among them being the use of spyware for both desktop and mobile devices that is delivered in “traditional” ways, such as with an email or a malicious link. One particularly interesting tidbit of info provided by someone identified only as “one former U.S. official” is that the FBI reportedly uses technology for activating the microphone in Android devices to secretly record conversations.
These tools are acquired via a combination of private sector purchases and internally-developed methods, with the FBI having reportedly been working on developing these various hacking tools for “more than a decade.” Not surprisingly, according to the sources, the FBI also actively exploits web bugs and hires those “who have hacking skill.” Using the secret technology can be a two-edged sword, however.
The technology is most often deployed in cases of counter terrorism, organized crime investigations, and child pornography. The FBI balks at the prospect of using the tools in investigative cases against hackers, however, because it worries that doing so will result in its methods being discovered by the suspect and being made publicly known to an Internet-wide audience.