[ISN] FBI confirms "Magic Lantern" project exists

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Thu Dec 13 2001 - 00:36:55 PST

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    By Reuters 
    December 12, 2001, 5:45 p.m. PT 
    An FBI spokesman confirmed on Wednesday that the U.S. government is
    working on a controversial Internet spying technology, code-named
    "Magic Lantern," which could be used to eavesdrop on computer
    communications by suspected criminals.
    "It is a workbench project" that has not yet been deployed, said FBI
    spokesman Paul Bresson. "We can't discuss it because it's under
    The FBI has already acknowledged that it uses software that records
    keystrokes typed into a computer to obtain passwords that can be used
    to read encrypted e-mail and other documents as part of criminal
    Magic Lantern reportedly would allow the agency to plant a Trojan
    horse keystroke logger on a target's PC by sending a computer virus
    over the Internet, rather than require physical access to the
    computer, as is now the case.
    Malicious hackers have been known to use e-mail or other remote
    methods for installing spying technology, security experts said.
    When word of Magic Lantern leaked out in published reports in
    November, civil libertarians said the program could easily be abused
    by overzealous law enforcement agencies.
    When asked if Magic Lantern would require a court order for the FBI to
    use it, as existing keystroke logger technology does, Bresson said:  
    "Like all technology projects or tools deployed by the FBI it would be
    used pursuant to the appropriate legal process."
    Major antivirus vendors this week said they would not voluntarily
    cooperate with the FBI and said their products would continue to be
    updated to detect and prevent viruses, regardless of their origin,
    unless there was a legal order otherwise.
    Doing so would anger customers and alienate non-U.S. customers and
    governments, they said, adding that there had been no requests by the
    FBI to ignore any viruses.
    The FBI set a precedent in a similar case by asking Internet service
    providers to install technology in their networks that allows
    officials to secretly read e-mails of criminal investigation targets.
    While the FBI requires a court order to install its technology,
    formerly called "Carnivore," some service providers reportedly comply
    voluntarily, while court orders are relatively easy to get, civil
    libertarians argue.
    Given the hijacking attacks of Sept. 11, it is also conceivable that
    the U.S. government would enlist the aid of private companies to
    combat terrorism and help its war effort, said Michael Erbschloe, vice
    president of research at Computer Economics, which analyzes the impact
    of viruses.
    "In previous wars, including World War II, the government had the
    power to call on companies to help; to commandeer the technology,"  
    said Erbschloe, author of "Information Warfare: How to Survive Cyber
    "If we were at war the government would be able to require technology
    companies to cooperate, I believe, in a number of ways, including
    getting back door access to information and computer systems."
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