The FBI and Webcam Activation


The latest reports reveal that the FBI can, and has been, activating cameras on civilian computers, apparently for several years now. This has been confirmed by

Marcus Thomas, former assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division in Quantico, when he spoke to the Washington Post about various computer hacking techniques now being used by law enforcement in the United States.

The Washington Post also reports that the capabilities of these tech-based, law enforcement, teams is far deeper than just being able to grab a few snapshots. They have the ability to stream audio and/or video in real-time.

These FBI agents can also reach into a suspect’s computer to download files, photographs, and gain access to their email accounts. Once in, the rest is achieved with little effort.

Most every webcam comes with an indicator light to let the user know when that camera is activated. It is widely known in the hacking community that such a feature can be easily disabled. Furthermore, most mics built into laptops, tablets, and our smart phones don't even have a light to worry about allowing audio to be gathered even easier.

This seemingly new list of capabilities came to light during an investigation of a mysterious man by the name of “Mo’’ – who threatened to blow up a building filled with innocent people unless authorities free shooting suspect, James Holmes, of the Colorado movie-theater murders.These tactics have been utilized “mainly” against suspected terrorists but is also used in non-terrorism related investigations, Thomas said. But determining jurisdiction while intercepting online communications seems to be an issue law enforcement agencies are faced with as highlighted by the Post. For instance, State or local law enforcement officers may only have the authority to perform surveillance on an individual within their State or Municipal Boundaries. It is easy to imagine that once the FBI's spyware has been placed on a laptop or other portable device, the information being received may or may not be streaming from where the local warrant was issued.

Valerie Caproni is a former FBI general counsel. She previously outlined the agency's concerns before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. “The challenge facing our State and local counterparts is exacerbated by the fact that there is currently no systematic way to make existing federally developed electronic intercept solutions widely available across the law enforcement community,” she told the members of the Congressional Committee.

Caproni offered testimony that included descriptions of two criminal investigations which she said illustrated the need for increased surveillance powers. The first case involved a narcotics investigation; the second, the distribution of child pornography. Neither of these crimes, though clearly serious violations of the law, do not constitute a threat to our national security.

“Because of encryption and because targets are increasingly using mobile devices, law enforcement is realizing that more and more they’re going to have to be on the device — or in the cloud,” Thomas added, in reference to remote storage services. “There’s the realization out there that they’re going to have to use these types of tools more and more.” Further revelation that our current laws are simply not adequate to support "non-local" findings.

Even without more specific laws in place, these initial actions show how far the FBI is willing to go with its use of malware to spy on the citizens of the U.S. A troubling trend, indeed. But as more information has come out, we also get to see the occasional brain dead mistakes the FBI had made really screwing themselves over during more than one investigation. Little things such as a typo of an e-mail address they were trying to keep tabs on. Good to know these completely competent folks are there to watch over us by any means necessary!