Feeds

AV vendors split over FBI Trojan snoops

Keystroke loggerheads

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

High performance access to file storage

Antivirus vendors are at loggerheads over whether they should include in their software packages detection for a Trojan horse program reportedly under development by the FBI.

A keystroke logging Trojan, called Magic Lantern, will enable investigators to discover break PGP encoded messages sent by suspects under investigation, MSNBC reports. By logging what a suspect types, and transmitting this back to investigators, the FBI could use Magic Lantern to work out a suspect's passphrase. Getting a target's private PGP keyring is easy in comparison, and with the two any message can be broken.

MSNBC quotes unnamed sources who says that Magic Lantern could be sent to a target by email or planted on a suspect's PC by exploiting common operating system vulnerabilities.

Although unconfirmed, the reports are been taken seriously in the security community, and are consistent with the admitted use of key-logging software in the investigation of suspected mobster Nicodemo Scarfo. In that case, FBI agents obtained a warrant to enter Scarfo's office and install keystroke logging software on his machine.

Magic Lantern, which would be an extension of the Carnivore Internet surveillance program, takes the idea one step further by enabling agents to place a Trojan on a target's computer without having to gain physical access.

The suggested technique creates a clutch of legal, ethical and technical issues. Greater powers in the Patriot Act, which Congress is considering, may allow the tool to be used. But what if it was modified for use by hackers?

And antivirus vendors are mulling over the rights and wrongs of putting Magic Lantern on their virus definition list.

Eric Chien, chief researcher at Symantec's antivirus research lab, said that provided a hypothetical keystroke logging tool was used only by the FBI, then Symantec would avoid updating its antivirus tools to detect such a Trojan.

Symantec is yet to hear back from the FBI on its enquiries about Magic Lantern.

"If it was under the control of the FBI, with appropriate technical safeguards in place to prevent possible misuse, and nobody else used it - we wouldn't detect it," said Chien. "However we would detect modified versions that might be used by hackers."

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, disagrees. He says it it wrong to deliberately refrain from detecting the virus, because its customers outside the US would expect protection against the Trojan. Such a move also creates an awkward precedent.

Cluley adds: "What if the French intelligence service, or even the Greeks, created a Trojan horse program for this purpose? Should we ignore those too?" ®

Related Stories

Mafia trial to test FBI spying tactics
FBI chief Mueller lied to Senate about key-logging
FBI let off cyber snooping hook
Anti-terror bill may regulate Carnivore use
Trojan lets cyber-cops plant bogus evidence
Zimmermann defends strong crypto against govt assault
Do-it-yourself Internet anonymity

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Parent gabfest Mumsnet hit by SSL bug: My heart bleeds, grins hacker
Natter-board tells middle-class Britain to purée its passwords
Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner hacked in just 4 DAYS
Sammy's newbie cooked slower than iPhone, also costs more to build
Obama allows NSA to exploit 0-days: report
If the spooks say they need it, they get it
Web data BLEEDOUT: Users to feel the pain as Heartbleed bug revealed
Vendors and ISPs have work to do updating firmware - if it's possible to fix this
Snowden-inspired crypto-email service Lavaboom launches
German service pays tribute to Lavabit
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Call of Duty 'fragged using OpenSSL's Heartbleed exploit'
So it begins ... or maybe not, says one analyst
NSA denies it knew about and USED Heartbleed encryption flaw for TWO YEARS
Agency forgets it exists to protect communications, not just spy on them
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.