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FBI Can Activate Your Android Phone's Microphone

By - Source: The Wall Street Journal | B 43 comments

The FBI can hack too.

The Wall Street Journal reports that based on court documents and interviews with people involved with federal agencies, law enforcement officials in the U.S. are resorting to tools typically used by hackers to gather information on suspects. Use of these tools under court order has grown as suspects look for new ways to communicate including various types of chat and encryption tools.

Sources said that the FBI has been developing its own hacking tools for more than a decade, but also purchases them from the private sector. One such tool allows the agency to remotely activate microphones on Android-based devices to record conversations. This same tool can also remotely access the microphone of a laptop to record conversations unknowing by the device owner.

MORE: How Secure is Microsoft SkyDrive?

A former U.S. official told the paper that the FBI typically doesn't resort to hacking tools unless it involves organized crime, child pornography or counterterrorism. The agency also doesn't use hacking tools when investigating an actual hacker for fear that the suspect will make the technique public knowledge. The FBI rarely discloses its techniques publicly in legal cases, the paper said.

Court documents reportedly show that a federal warrant application in a Texas-based identity-theft case asked the court permission to use software to secretly take photos using a computer's camera and extract files. The judge denied the application, wanting to know exactly how the files would be extracted without exposing information on innocent people.

The paper also said that the FBI has been using "web bugs" since at least 2005 to gather a computer's IP address, a list of programs running and other data. The agency has also been hiring people with hacking skills, and purchasing hacking tools when other surveillance methods don't work.

Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, indicated that local cops are going to hack into surveillance targets whether it’s a legit method or not. He also said that more information about the practice is now slipping out because there's a growing industry of selling hacking tools to law enforcement. There are even posts and resumes on social networks in which people talk about helping the FBI with surveillance while employed with private companies. Keeping the hacking activities secret is seemingly no longer possible.

Naturally a search warrant is required to gain access to content stored on a suspect's computer. But software that remotely gathers only Internet metadata (IP addresses, email header) can do so under a court with a lower standard because authorities are not actually touching the suspect's property. Thus many officials manage to install surveillance tools remotely by sending the suspect a document or link that loads the software in the background. Secretly gaining physical access to the computer and loading software via a USB drive is also another common practice.

Sources told the paper that the FBI has controls to ensure that only relevant data is obtained. To read the full report, head here.

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Top Comments
  • 27 Hide
    deadmeow , August 4, 2013 3:21 PM
    They can also shoot you in the head. Welcome to tyranny.
  • 23 Hide
    christop , August 4, 2013 3:36 PM
    More of our right being walked all over..
  • 14 Hide
    Darkk , August 4, 2013 4:39 PM
    FBI have been given way too much power to tap into people's lives. Especially the innocent's. How many times the innocent have been wrongly accused of a crime and the hassle of going to courts to prove it. Once your name been dragged through mud it's very hard to go back to the way it was with your life.
Other Comments
    Display all 43 comments.
  • 27 Hide
    deadmeow , August 4, 2013 3:21 PM
    They can also shoot you in the head. Welcome to tyranny.
  • 9 Hide
    quicksand10 , August 4, 2013 3:26 PM
    Waiting impatiently for Google's press release on this.

    And, NightLight, maybe it has come to this, but warrantless spying remains unjust.
  • 12 Hide
    Onus , August 4, 2013 3:31 PM
    And, is there anyone around foolish enough to believe this is all the Government might ever do with this technology? Chipping away, chipping away...
  • 23 Hide
    christop , August 4, 2013 3:36 PM
    More of our right being walked all over..
  • 5 Hide
    thor220 , August 4, 2013 4:12 PM
    At this point, it's really hard to believe that the government doesn't already secretly install I.D chips in new citizens.
  • 8 Hide
    deadmeow , August 4, 2013 4:30 PM
    NightLife, you say your life is not important, and thats what tyrants want you to think. Everyone's life is important, and nobody has the right to violence. All violence is terrorism, even the violence of little men in uniforms and shiny boots is terrorism.
  • -5 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , August 4, 2013 4:35 PM
    Turn your phone off, then.
  • 14 Hide
    Darkk , August 4, 2013 4:39 PM
    FBI have been given way too much power to tap into people's lives. Especially the innocent's. How many times the innocent have been wrongly accused of a crime and the hassle of going to courts to prove it. Once your name been dragged through mud it's very hard to go back to the way it was with your life.
  • 9 Hide
    gladiator_mohaa , August 4, 2013 5:00 PM
    ”Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither.” Benjamin Franklin
  • 4 Hide
    gladiator_mohaa , August 4, 2013 5:05 PM
    ”Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither.” Benjamin Franklin
  • 4 Hide
    Grandmastersexsay , August 4, 2013 5:08 PM
    Nightlight is the biggest kind of ass hole. His stupidity affects us all.

    I wonder what Nightlight would think if in ten years he won a position in public office and was told by the Feds that if he didn't play ball, they would release his old porn surfing habits to the media?

    Knowledge is power, and a powerful government is dangerous.
  • 0 Hide
    gladiator_mohaa , August 4, 2013 5:10 PM
    Infact Nightlife, them listening to you would cost lives as it would be time wastes. It's there job to find the correct targets, get a warrant, and go from there. It's like the NSA and the call logs...what a waste of government resources. Instead of logging every US citizen, why not only log who's calling numbers with county codes that openly support terrorism? Save time, money and might catch terrorism without sacrificing everyone's freedom. But hey, that requires profiling and we CAN'T do that can we?
  • 0 Hide
    gladiator_mohaa , August 4, 2013 5:14 PM
    Infact Nightlife, them listening to you would cost lives as it would be time wastes. It's there job to find the correct targets, get a warrant, and go from there. It's like the NSA and the call logs...what a waste of government resources. Instead of logging every US citizen, why not only log who's calling numbers with county codes that openly support terrorism? Save time, money and might catch terrorism without sacrificing everyone's freedom. But hey, that requires profiling and we CAN'T do that can we?
  • -4 Hide
    cbrunnem , August 4, 2013 5:31 PM
    this isnt important. dont put yourself in position for them to want to hear what you got to say and its not a problem. its not like they are listening to you because they want to.
  • 2 Hide
    beayn , August 4, 2013 6:21 PM
    Nightlight - when you say that's OK, after a decade of doing it, they expand it to more crimes. Next they'll be using surveillance to monitor drug related crimes. After that, general crimes, after that, all crimes. So long as no one protests and are convinced that it's for the greater good, it will happen. Now you might be thinking "I'm not a criminal anyway." however, "all crimes" will include anything they deem illegal. Certain sex acts with your wife are currently illegal, and by some religions, anything but missionary style. New laws are being added daily making more and more things illegal. Our countries started out free and are slowly heading to a different kind of communism.
  • 8 Hide
    JDoubleU , August 4, 2013 6:32 PM
    "First they came..." a poem by pastor Martin Niemöller
    "First they came for the communists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

    Then they came for the socialists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

    Then they came for the Catholics,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Catholic.

    Then they came for me,
    and there was no one left to speak for me."

    I don't believe that human life is special, especially not mine, 7 billion people on Earth prove that; and if my life should be taken because of a terrorist bombing that could have been prevented by violating thousands of American's constitutional rights... then I accept my fate. Freedom isn't free and it sickens me that so many of my fellow countrymen are so scared of dying that they would rather live a few more years in the Matrix instead of living free. You dishonor our soldiers and you dishonor the memory of what this country was founded on.
  • 1 Hide
    eodeo , August 4, 2013 6:39 PM
    This is beyond unacceptable.
  • 4 Hide
    pepe2907 , August 4, 2013 6:52 PM
    NightLight, if your life is not that important why should there be antiterrorist efforts at all? :) 
  • -2 Hide
    jacobdrj , August 4, 2013 7:07 PM
    This is VERY old news.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0G1fNjK9SXg
    That video is from 2007!
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