Thursday, April 16, 2009

CIPAV: FBI Spyware Has Been Snaring Extortionists and Hackers for Years

Kevin Poulsen writes on Threat Level:

A sophisticated FBI-produced spyware program has played a crucial behind-the-scenes role in federal investigations into extortion plots, terrorist threats and hacker attacks in cases stretching back at least seven years, newly declassified documents show.

As first reported by, the software, called a "computer and internet protocol address verifier," or CIPAV, is designed to infiltrate a target's computer and gather a wide range of information, which it secretly sends to an FBI server in eastern Virginia. The FBI's use of the spyware surfaced in 2007 when the bureau used it to track e-mailed bomb threats against a Washington state high school to a 15-year-old student.

But the documents released Thursday under the Freedom of Information Act show the FBI has quietly obtained court authorization to deploy the CIPAV in a wide variety of cases, ranging from major hacker investigations, to someone posing as an FBI agent online. Shortly after its launch, the program became so popular with federal law enforcement that Justice Department lawyers in Washington warned that overuse of the novel technique could result in its electronic evidence being thrown out of court in some cases.

"While the technique is of indisputable value in certain kinds of cases, we are seeing indications that it is being used needlessly by some agencies, unnecessarily raising difficult legal questions (and a risk of suppression) without any countervailing benefit," reads a formerly-classified March 7, 2002 memo from the Justice Department's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.

More here.


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