Privacy SOS

FBI sought warrant to install malware on computer

Can the FBI get a warrant to install malware on a computer it suspects is tied to criminal activity because of an IP address? Perhaps, but a Texas judge has denied one particular warrant application seeking permission to do so. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The case offers a rare look at the use of "offensive" computer security tools by the U.S. government. By "surreptitiously installing software"— a technique typically associated with computer hackers—investigators are able to infiltrate machines and gather information on "records of Internet activity," including "search terms that the user entered into any Internet search engine, and records of user-typed Web addresses," according to documents in the case.

The government also is seeking to get photographs taken using the computer's built-in camera, as well as access documents, email contents and chat-messaging logs, the documents state.

In his order, [the judge] wrote among other things that the FBI needs to do more to ensure that information from innocent people isn't gathered using such tools. He said it is easy to hide true Internet Protocol addresses and that the government "has offered little more than vague assurances" that it would be able to minimize the amount of data gathered from people not involved in criminal activity.

But Magistrate Judge Smith wrote it may be possible to use such tools—just not with the application currently presented by the government.

"This is not to say that such a potent investigative technique could never be authorized," he wrote, "but the extremely intrusive nature of such a search requires careful adherence" to the rules.

As I've written before, if you want to make sure hackers (government and non) can’t see you through your computer, put a piece of sticky note over your webcam.

Doing so won’t prevent someone who has installed malware on your computer from accessing incredibly detailed information about your life, including your passwords, but it will prevent some creep in a dark room thousands of miles away from seeing you naked.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.