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Tag: computers

FBI Pays Best Buy Technicians to ‘Ferret Out Child Porn” on Computers

Best Buy, via Wikipedia

Best Buy, via Wikipedia

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Technicians for Best Buy’s “Geek Squad City” are being paid by the FBI as part of “a joint venture to ferret out child porn,” according to claims in new federal documents.

The allegations were leveled by lawyers for a California doctor who was charged with possessing child pornography after Best Buy technicians said they found unlawful images on his computer, the Washington Post reports

It has been known that Best Buy’s computer repair facility had a relationship with the FBI, but the new allegations suggest the ties are much deeper the previously believed.

The Post wrote:

While there is no question that Geek Squad technicians have notified authorities after finding child porn, the new court documents assert that there is a deeper relationship than has previously been revealed between the company and federal authorities. The court is now considering the extent of that relationship and whether it is grounds to throw out a pending child porn case, though it could also have ramifications for the dozens of cases which originate from the Kentucky facility annually.

Defense lawyers for the doctor argue that Geek Squad City’s technicians acted as government agents by receiving payments from the FBI, regularly speaking with and referring cases to the FBI, and creating a program to search for child porn. If a government agent wants to search a computer, they need a warrant, and the case has raised issues of privacy invasion and violation of constitutional search and seizure rights.

FBI’s New Surveillance Powers Raise Questions about Civil Liberties

Data securityBy Editorial Board
Orange County Register

The FBI quietly acquired sweeping surveillance powers, beginning Dec. 1, it had sought for years, and the change came without a single congressional hearing or vote.

Under a change to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the FBI will now be able to obtain a single warrant from a magistrate that allows it to hack thousands – or perhaps millions – of computers across the country, or even outside it, in certain circumstances.

It would apply when technology like Tor or VPNs (virtual private networks) are used to hide the location of users, or when a computer is swept up in a “botnet,” a network of private computers infected by malware and controlled without the users’ knowledge, such as by an email spammer. “In these circumstances, law enforcement could remotely access, search, seize or copy data on computers, no matter where the computers were located and without providing notice to the users being searched,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation cautioned.

Previously, magistrates could only issue warrants for searches within their districts. Thus, the rule change raises fears about “forum shopping,” under which the FBI could seek warrants from magistrates known to hand out warrants with little scrutiny, even if no devices to be searched reside in their districts. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who led a bipartisan group of senators attempting to block the rule change the day before it went into effect, but was rebuffed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called it “one of the biggest mistakes in surveillance policy in years and years.” Wyden contended that government hacking attempts could inadvertently damage personal computers and cellphones, hospital systems or even the power grid. “(I)nnocent Americans could be victimized twice – once by their hackers and a second time by their government,” he said on the floor of the Senate. “This rule change will give the government unprecedented authority to hack into Americans’ personal phones, computers and other devices.” Wyden was joined on the floor by Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana. “This proposed solution essentially gives the government a blank check to infringe upon our civil liberties,” Daines asserted. “Our civil liberties and our Fourth Amendment can be chipped away little by little until we barely recognize them anymore. We simply can’t give unlimited power for unlimited hacking which puts Americans’ civil liberties at risk.”

The rule change also illustrates an astonishing lack of oversight.

To read more click here.

FBI Uses Dogs to Sniff Out Cybercrime by Finding Electronic Components

computer spies2By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Faced with the growing threat of cybercrime, the FBI has turned to dogs to help crack down on computer crimes.

The canines are trained to sniff out electronic components that store data, News12 reports. Some of the components are tiny and hard to find.

“Cybercrime has evolved and is such a threat right now,” says the Newark FBI’s Michael Brodack.

Electronics are growingly important and can help investigators find evidence against suspects.

“It’s the gang member with a cellphone; it’s the terrorist who builds a bomb using electronic components, all of those are devices that Iris (a dog) is trained to detect,” says Phil Frigm, a supervisory special agent in the FBI’s cybercrime division.

Attorney: FBI Used Best Buy Employee to Perform Warrantless Searches

Data securityBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A Best Buy employee who worked at the company’s repair center served as a paid FBI informant who essentially performed warrantless searches on electronics at the maintenance facility in Kentucky, according to the attorney of a doctor facing child pornography charges.

Since 2009, “the FBI was dealing with a paid agent inside the Geek Squad who was used for the specific purpose of searching clients’ computers for child pornography and other contraband or evidence of crimes,” defense attorney James Riddet claimed in a court filing last month, the Los Angeles Times reports. 

Riddet is defending Dr. Mark Albert Rettenmaier, who was indicted in November 2014 on two felony counts of child pornography.

Riddet has asked the judge to dismiss most of the evidence in the case because it was taken during illegal searches by a supervisor at the Geek Squad.

Government Technology: Stop Letting Cybercriminals Hide from FBI

hacker-istock-photoBy Editorial Board
Government Technology

Imagine that a criminal investigator has identified one or more computers that are part of ongoing criminal activity. Unfortunately, the people operating these computers are hiding them. The machines could be anywhere in the world, using anonymous email or tools like Tor to conceal their location.

The investigator also has a tool, a carefully engineered piece of software, which she calls a “Network Investigatory Technique,” or NIT, that will cause a targeted computer to reveal itself. Once she sends the software to the computer she’s investigating, it will reply with a message saying, “I am at this location.” The rest of the security world calls the NIT “malicious code” (“malcode” for short) and deploying it “hacking,” because the software exploits a vulnerability in the target’s computer, the same way a criminal would.

Federal court rules currently say she can use this tool only if she gets an electronic search warrant from a judge. But the computer could be anywhere: to which court should she go to get the warrant?

This is not a hypothetical problem. Online investigations face this problem all the time, when tracking down fraudsters or those issuing threats using anonymous emails, botmasters who have compromised thousands of computers around the planet or purveyors of drugs or child pornography. The current federal rules of criminal evidence (in particular a section known as Rule 41) require investigators to seek warrants from a magistrate judge in the federal court district where the target computer is located.

But if investigators don’t know where in the country, or indeed the world, the computer is, the existing rules effectively dictate that there is no judge who could approve a warrant to actually find out its specific location. In essence, the rule is, “The investigator can get a warrant to hack these computers to reveal their location only when she knows where they already are.” That rule might have made sense before the digital age, but in today’s digital world it forces an end to promising investigations.

To read more click here. 

Other Stories of Interest

U.S. Supreme Court Gives FBI Authority to Hack More Computers

hacking By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The Supreme Court on Thursday gave the FBI more authority to hack into computers beginning in December.

Until then, Congress can adopt legislation to undermine the court’s decision, the Intercept reports. 

Before the ruling, magistrate judges were prohibited from approving a warrant request to search a computer unless the computer was inside the judge’s jurisdiction.

Under the ruling, the FBI would be able to gain a warrant to search a computer anywhere in the country, regardless of jurisdiction.

Privacy advocates weren’t happy.

“Whatever euphemism the FBI uses to describe it—whether they call it a ‘remote access search’ or a ‘network investigative technique’—what we’re talking about is government hacking, and this obscure rule change would authorize a whole lot more of it,” Kevin Bankston, director of Open Technology Institute, said in a press release.

Other Stories of Interest

Supreme Court to Decide Whether to Help FBI Hack into More Computers

hacking By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in favor of a Justice Department request that would allow judges to issue search warrants so that law enforcement agencies have the access to computers in any jurisdiction.

Currently, magistrate judges are limited to ordering searches within the jurisdiction of their court, Reuters reports. 

The change would help federal agencies like the FBI hack into more computer networks, a concern of some tech companies and the ACLU

If a judge approves the change, both chambers of Congress would have to approve it.

Homeland Security Computers Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks, Audit Reveals

computer spies2By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for protecting government computers, but it turns out, the agency’s own information systems are vulnerable to a cyber attack, according to an audit, Newsweek reports. 

The audit found lapses in the internal systems used by ICE and the Secret Service and said Homeland Security needs to better train analysts and investigators in cyber training.

“We identified vulnerabilities on internal websites at ICE and USSS that may allow unauthorized individuals to gain access to sensitive data,” according to the report by the Office of the Inspector General for DHS.

The computers contain information on case tracking, information sharing and investigation statistics.