FBI Malware Can Secretly Turn On Webcams, Track Web Use

FBI malware can be used in criminal investigations to track potentially dangerous suspects. However, such software toes the line of Constitutionality — the malware can follow your web use, track the physical location of your PC, and, perhaps creepiest of all, it can turn on your PC’s webcam without you knowing.

That’s right: FBI malware programs, malicious pieces of software that subvert a user’s control of their computer, can be sent to targeted suspects, reports Gizmodo. They can be used to activate any device’s webcam without turning on its in-use light to avoid alerting the target. These new details expand earlier reports that showed that the FBI’s hacking team is able to turn on a PC or Android device’s microphone to listen in on a suspect. Apparently they can get video with that, too.

Revelation of the FBI’s malware use came after an investigation into a suspect known only as “Mo” to law enforcement, according to Washington Post. Mo came to the attention of federal investigators in July 2012, two days after the tragic Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting that left 12 dead. Mo contacted the local sheriff, demanding the release of the theater shooting suspect, James Holmes. Claiming to be Holmes’ friend, Mo threatened a high-casualty terrorist bombing attack if the Aurora shooting suspect was not freed.

For months, Mo continued to contact law enforcement officials with threats. However, because he communicated using the internet, the FBI could not tap his phone or otherwise track him. Unsure whether Mo would finally follow through with one of his many threats, federal agents had a special search warrant issued. With it, federal hackers would send a FBI malware program to Mo’s email.

Much like other forms of malware, this tactic relied on phishing — the act of tricking a PC user into clicking on a link and infecting their system with malicious software. In this case the software was not successful in granting FBI agents complete access to Mo’s PC. However agents were able to learn more about Mo’s location. As investigators suspected, Mo is based in Iran, a fortunate outcome for the FBI.

Had they found Mo to be in the US or to be a US citizen, the FBI’s malware use could have had serious legal complications. As a federal magistrate commented, while disapproving an FBI request for a similar type of search warrant in another case, using malware in such a way to spy on suspects could be a breach of the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment protects US citizens from unlawful search or seizure by law enforcement.

As information about the way US agencies liberally use electronic surveillance methods continues to be revealed, debate over privacy rights grows. Are you alarmed to learn that FBI malware can activate your PC’s webcam? Or do you believe it is a justifiable form of investigation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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