Tag Archives: Magic Lantern


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Great Computerworld article on CIPAV. And there’s more to come: Computerworld filed a FOIA (USDOJ site here) request to get more information.

Questions answered include:

  • What is CIPAV?
  • What does CIPAV do?
  • What happens to the data the CIPAV collects?
  • Does the CIPAV capture keystrokes?
  • Can the CIPAV spread on its own to other computers, either purposefully or by accident?
  • Does CIPAV erase itself after its job is done?
  • Does the FBI have just one stock CIPAV model?
  • How did the CIPAV get onto the targeted computer?
  • Is CIPAV related to “Magic Lantern”?

Full article here:


Disclaimer/disclosure: I’m an InfraGard member. In my writing about CIPAV, I’m providing only information that has already been published.

my personal position on the FBI’s CIPAV capability

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In the days since I posted a story on the FBI’s use of CIPAV (which may be their “magic lantern” capability), my blog has been visited by many individuals who are trying to figure out how to detect whether CIPAV is running on their systems and, if so, how to disable or remove it.

Sorry, can’t help you. Won’t help you.

As a security professional, I deeply understand the concern about spyware, key loggers, and other tools that track our movements and even our keystrokes. When they originate from commercial or malicious sources, of course I want the ability to detect, disable, and remove. I wrote a book on the subject three years ago.

But when law enforcement obtains a court order and uses the same sort of software, I will not publicly discuss if such capabilities exist or how they work. Being an InfraGard board member, I have visibly close ties with the FBI and other branches and levels of law enforcement. As my disclaimer reads, I am 100% white hat. I support law enforcement as long as law enforcement is acting within established laws. My disclaimer is reproduced below.

My professional codes of ethics ((ISC)², ISACA, GIAC, InfraGard) forbid me from activities that give even the appearance of impropriety. Hence, I do not possess, and never have possessed, nor downloaded, examined, or viewed, any tools that can be used to exploit weaknesses. I do not associate with those who do. I am 100% white hat.

Policeware: the spyware that aids law enforcement

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Policeware is the new term to describe spyware that is used by law enforcement to gather evidence in law enforcement investigations.

It is highly likely that anti-virus and anti-spyware software will look the other way if they detect policeware. Or, more likely, they won’t carry signatures for policeware at all.

So will it be possible to detect policeware? Possibly. I think that policeware will be the backdrop for the next cat-and-mouse game between law enforcement and the underworld.

Hackers are anxious to get a copy of CIPAV, the investigative tool (that gets installed on a suspect’s PC) used by the FBI to log outbound TCP/IP connections. Certainly they will device tools to detect and block CIPAV and other such tools. In fact, this may be history as I write this – the capability to detect and remove CIPAV may already exist. And given that Magic Lantern and Carnivore have been around for several years, I can’t help but wonder if tools exist to detect its activities.

FBI implanted spyware leads to arrest of bomb threat suspect

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The FBI used a novel type of remotely installed spyware last month to investigate who was e-mailing bomb threats to a high school near Olympia, Wash.

Federal agents obtained a court order on June 12 to send spyware called CIPAV to a MySpace account suspected of being used by the bomb threat hoaxster. Once implanted, the software was designed to report back to the FBI with the Internet Protocol address of the suspect’s computer, other information found on the PC and, notably, an ongoing log of the user’s outbound connections.

My earlier blog entry on whether anti-virus can detect law enforcement-installed malware.

Entire story here:


AV vendors will block law enforcement key loggers, for now

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Updated 7/19/07: FBI nabs bomb threat suspect with spyware
Updated 7/19/07: Policeware: the spyware used by law enforcement

A recent case that was heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals involved law enforcement use of a key logger on a suspect’s computer. The case involved a suspected illicit drug maker that was under investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The DEA obtained permission from a judge to install key logging software on the suspect’s computer in order to harvest passwords for PGP and Hushmail encryption.

This case highlights a question that I’ve been thinking about for years: would my anti-virus program alert me to the presence of key logger software, even if it was installed by law enforcement? C|Net News interviewed representatives from several anti-virus/malware companies and got answers to that question. Would the following vendors’ programs detect key loggers even if installed by law enforcement?

▪ Grisoft/AVG: Yes
▪ Checkpoint: Yes
▪ Computer Associates: Yes
▪ eEye: Yes
▪ IBM: Yes
▪ Kaspersky: Yes
▪ McAfee: Yes
▪ Microsoft: Yes
▪ Sana: Yes
▪ Sophos: Yes
▪ Symantec: Yes
▪ Trend Micro: Yes
▪ Websense: Yes

C|Net News also asked these vendors if they had ever received requests from law enforcement (including subpoenas) that their products not inform a specific user of the presence of a law enforcement installed key logger. Some of the companies have a policy to not discuss specific dealings with law enforcement – and the rest said they had received no such request.

I am wondering just now – what would McAfee, Trend, Symantec, or any of the others do if law enforcement DID request / require that their products not report the presence of a key logger. How would they accomplish that feat? I can imagine a number of scenarios on how that would be accomplished:

  • The specific anti-virus vendor would design in a mechanism that would silence the software’s alert of a key logger if it received a specific signal from the vendor’s update service. To accomplish this, the vendor would have to know precisely which PC should be silenced, and be able to do so silently.

Other, less serious, alternatives come to mind:

  • Law enforcement could sneak into the suspect’s computer and run a program that would disable anti-virus programs’ ability to detect or report the presence of the key logger. I can easily imagine malware that would perform the same disabling feature in order to hide its own key logger. Some malware already has the ability to completely shut down anti-virus programs, firewalls, and so on, so this capability is not that far-fetched.
  • Law enforcement could send an e-mail to the suspect, where the e-mail either contained an executable, or a URL to a law enforcement website. “Please run this program or visit this web site so that we can install a key logger for you.” Uh huh.

Remember: anything that law enforcement can do, hackers can do. In fact, hackers are often one step ahead of law enforcement, experienced with the illicit installation of key loggers.

Anyway, I can imagine a future where law enforcement may have the ability to get key loggers onto computers, and at the same time get anti-malware programs to look the other way. But I expect that there will be capabilities of detecting and disabling such key loggers: hackers are notoriously anti-law enforcement and they would quickly fill the need to detect and block law enforcement key loggers.

In the meantime I can think of a few countermeasures:

  • Regularly scan your computer with one of several available online malware scanners (see this tip for more information).
  • Run one or more anti-rootkit programs to scan for rootkits (I feel that key loggers and/or the means for blocking anti-malware’s alerting it may be done by rootkits).
  • Switch your OS: use MacOS or Linux instead of Windows.

I have a feeling that the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU will be watching these developments.

Links to stories: