Feeds

German cops and spooks prep own spyware

Federal Trojan for 'online searches'

Using blade systems to cut costs and sharpen efficiencies

Analysis Germany's police and secret services are pushing for a legal basis for "online house searches" – carried out without the knowledge of suspects, using spyware similar to a Trojan.

The German public learned of the practice in November last year, when a magistrate of the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal High Court) ruled that there is no legal basis for such measures as part of police inquiries.

Magistrate Ulrich Hebenstreit argued that house searches could only be carried out openly, with the knowledge of the suspect. In his view, and legal parlance, secretly searching a hard drive, whether in private or for commercial use, constituted "a major interference with the right to informational self-determination".

Moreover, because all data can be viewed and analysed by the authorities – from private photos to email correspondence – the suspect's right to refuse to give evidence was violated by the measure.

Hebenstreit's decision received mixed response.

While the Home Office stressed that it immediately stopped online searches, spokesman Christian Sachs says: "One organisational unit at the Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Office) is currently working on the technological basis for such online house searches. For obvious reasons, we cannot comment on the technicalities."

Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Schäuble intends to introduce a law to legalise the practice.

In fact, the measure, and online security in general, plays a major role in his imminent "programme for the strengthening of public security".

"The internet of today is a training camp, and an open university for terrorists," Schäuble says.

Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) president Jörg Ziercke believes the "Federal Trojan" (as the project has been dubbed by the public) is necessary because confiscating physical hard drives is almost useless. "They store their data on the internet and encrypt the hard drive. That is why we have to have access at the point of dissemination."

He said 99.9 per cent of German internet users will "have nothing to with this".

How often German law enforcers have tried to infect the PCs of suspects with Trojans is unclear. While the BKA talks about "only a few cases", Minister of Justice Brigitte Zypries, of the Social Democrats, knows of "four requests for online house searches so far".

However, the government, in an answer (PDF in German) to a written parliamentary question, says so far there have been no online house searches at all, because one request was rejected by the responsible judge, while another attempt failed because of "technical difficulties".

Influential German hacker organisation The Chaos Computer Club published a statement pointing to the possible consequences of successful infection with a Federal Trojan.

"The whole PC could be telecommanded, the webcam turned on, and the room surveilled acoustically, email and chat conversion could be followed."

However, the hackers are skeptical about the real danger posed by the spyware, and dryly recommend that "a well managed firewall and anti-virus software should take care of governmental or private spyware".

Mr Padeluun, a spokesperson of the data protection association FOEBUD, says the whole debate is nothing but a "smoke screen".

"As long as we are talking about Trojans, the danger is quite small. Another question, however, is if security agencies might soon be allowed to bug a computer with small hardware, which is far more difficult to detect." ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

More from The Register

next story
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
NEW, SINISTER web tracking tech fingerprints your computer by making it draw
Have you been on YouPorn lately, perhaps? White House website?
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Black Hat anti-Tor talk smashed by lawyers' wrecking ball
Unmasking hidden users is too hot for Carnegie-Mellon
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
Don't look, Snowden: Security biz chases Tails with zero-day flaws alert
Exodus vows not to sell secrets of whistleblower's favorite OS
Own a Cisco modem or wireless gateway? It might be owned by someone else, too
Remote code exec in HTTP server hands kit to bad guys
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.