Cybersecurity

Broad Expansion of FBI's Hacking Authority Begins Today

One warrant and one judge can lead to untold numbers of system intrusions.

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computer
Alphaspirit / Dreamstime.com

Lest we incorrectly assume that the United Kingdom stands alone in expanding surveillance power, today a controversial rule change granting the FBI much broader authority to remotely hack into computers comes on line.

Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure was updated earlier in the year, but didn't come into force until today, which gave Congress time to stop the rule change if it so wanted. This update to the rule allows federal law enforcement to seek permission to hack into large numbers of computers in any jurisdiction with a single judge's permission. Before today a judge could only authorize hacking into computers within his or her own district.

What's the big deal about this? Understand that this isn't just about hacking into computers of suspected criminals. It's about hacking into any computer that is connected to any sort of criminal investigation, and that potentially (and very likely) includes completely innocent parties who have had their own computers hacked and/or unwittingly installed malware to give a hacker access.

Tech companies and privacy activists have been critical of the broad scope of the rule change and are concerned about the potential consequences. From USA Today:

Opponents of the new rule, including Google and other big tech companies, say it would hurt crime victims twice by letting the government hack them after they've already been hit by criminal hackers. The government could potentially damage victims' computers and smartphones and destroy their data, critics say.

Federal agents must make "reasonable efforts" under the new rule to tell law-abiding Americans that their devices have been hacked by the government, but privacy advocates said that requirement is weak and victims may never be told about the intrusion.

"We can't give unlimited power for unlimited hacking — putting Americans' civil liberties at risk," [Sen. Steve] Daines said.

Daines and a small group of bipartisan legislators had been trying in Congress to delay the rule's implementation, but they failed.

So be warned. If you end up getting hacked somehow, the FBI may well be poking around inside your machine looking for the culprit without you even noticing.

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  1. I have been assuming since before Edward Snowden that everything I do online is being watched in real time or recorded. I use a VPN, sometimes TOR. The government is going to do what they do whether they have the legal backing to do so, or whether they monitor a person illegally and then just construct a parallel construction to facilitate prosecution.

    This law does little but let them be more open about what they’ve already been doing.

  2. Member when general warrants were unconstitutional? Good times. Good times.

    1. Lettres du cachet.

    2. This isn’t a writ of attainder. At all. Entirely different…. Because computer…Something about being no more secure than a deadbolt but treated different. I hope that’s more clear. /sarc.

  3. Federal agents must make “reasonable efforts” under the new rule to tell law-abiding Americans that their devices have been hacked by the government, but privacy advocates said that requirement is weak and victims may never be told about the intrusion.

    Since “reasonable efforts” is defined as a government employee made the effort to stand in front of a judge and announce all reasonable efforts have been made, the privacy advocates have a valid point.

  4. It seems like the FBI could just, I don’t know, notify the person who was hacked and ask if they’d like some law enforcement help with that? I mean, I know, that’s just crazy talk when they can just force you without your knowledge but I think there would be a lot of people who would say ‘yes, install your FBI tracking stuff on my system and nail those guys who stole my Social Security and Credit Card information.

    Of course, I also have basically zero faith that the government could catch a hamster in one of those little ball things so I’d probably just give them the finger and reformat like any other sane adult. Want to take down a botnet? Just tell people they’re part of one and watch it either disappear or halve in strength. Not that it matters anyway, since China can probably smash things with DDOS without the help of stateside systems even if I’m sure they could make a lot more requests per second or however they measure that.

    1. I keep a separate system for important things like bank accounts. I used to do it because of nefarious hackers. Now I do it for nefarious FBI agents.

  5. Before today a judge could only authorize hacking into computers within his or her own district.

    All that venue shopping really wears a DA out.

  6. …the FBI may well be poking around inside your machine looking for the culprit without you even noticing.

    I just hope they turn my Gateway Essential Desktop into one of their kiddie porn servers.

    1. Ask the SEC how to do that.

  7. Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure was updated earlier in the year

    And who makes that rule? And how does this “rule” outweigh the constitution?

    1. The rules are promulgated by the Supreme Court.

      And it outweighs the constitution because FYTW.

  8. I voted for Daines because I knew him and his dad professionally, and decided that he was actually an honest and decent guy, in spite of his SoCon loyalties (He campaigned for Huckabee in 08). I’ve got to say, he has still turned out to be a pleasant fucking surprise as a senator.

  9. Seems like congress screwed up once again here by not calling a halt to such foolishness. I wonder why.

  10. I think this will continue to get worse. There will be no expectation of privacy over any network, wired or wireless, voice, text, or data. Everything you do in public, inside or out, will be recorded, both audio and video.

    1. And olfactory.

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