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German cyberplods raid Pirate Party on Skype Trojan mole hunt

BayernTrojaner controversy heats up

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Bavarian cops have searched the office of a spokesman for the German Pirate Party (Piratenpartei Deutschland) hunting for a mole who leaked information on plans to develop a Trojan capable of eavesdropping on Skype conversation, according to local reports.

Golem.de reports that an office in the home of Pirate Party spokesman Ralph dog Erlach was searched in the early hours of September 11 by police demanding to know who had leaked plans for the controversial wiretap program. Police took away files and computer servers, said to be protected by strong encryption.

The German Pirate Party, which campaigns about the misuse of copyright and other issues, is styled after the better-known Swedish Pirate Party and represents a minor political grouping in the German political scene. The party won a 0.3 per cent of votes in the Hesse state election this year, the first it has contested.

German reports don't say but the raid on the Pirate Party spokesman apparently follows the publication of two leaked documents on Wikileaks in January. One detailed plans by German firm Digitask to develop wiretap packages capable of intercepting Skype VoIP communications and SSL transmissions, while the second contained costing and licensing proposals for such software drawn up by the Bavarian Ministry of Justice.

If nothing else, the raid provides suggestive evidence of the authenticity of these documents.

Bavaria became the first German state to pass legislation that allows police to plant spyware on the PCs of suspects in terrorist investigations back in July. The measure is strongly opposed by both sections of the security community and privacy activists, who might yet mount some kind of legal challenge at the federal level.

Skype promises confidentiality through encrypted calls, but not anonymity. For example, a fugitive business exec was tracked down to Sri Lanka by private detectives in 2006 after making a Skype call. Often police are simply interested in who a target is talking to and when rather than the content of conversations.

That's not enough for to satisfy some law enforcement agencies, however.

German police have been the most vocal in complaining about how encryption and VoIP was making their lives miserable. Spyware was seen as a way of turning back the clock to the sort of set-up on monitoring suspects depicted in the film Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others), adding an extra tool in the fight against terrorism in the process.

But the whole Trojan ruse is fraught with numerous difficulties. Quite aside from concerns about the admissibility of evidence obtained using the tactic there's also the worry that samples of the malware might fall into the hands of cybercrooks.

Then there's the possibility that the anti-virus software of suspects might detect the state-sanctioned malware. Security firms that agree to law enforcement requests to turn a blind eye to state-sanctioned malware risk would undermine trust in their technology, as demonstrated by the Magic Lantern controversy in the US a few years ago. ®

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