With every fresh leak, the world learns more about the U.S. National Security Agency’s massive and controversial surveillance apparatus. Lost in the commotion has been the story of the NSA’s indispensable partner in its global spying operations: an obscure, clandestine unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that, even for a surveillance agency, keeps a low profile.
When the media and members of Congress say the NSA spies on Americans, what they really mean is that the FBI helps the NSA do it, providing a technical and legal infrastructure that permits the NSA, which by law collects foreign intelligence, to operate on U.S. soil. It’s the FBI, a domestic U.S. law enforcement agency, that collects digital information from at least nine American technology companies as part of the NSA’s Prism system. It was the FBI that petitioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to order Verizon Business Network Services, one of the United States’ biggest telecom carriers for corporations, to hand over the call records of millions of its customers to the NSA.
But the FBI is no mere errand boy for the United States’ biggest intelligence agency. It carries out its own signals intelligence operations and is trying to collect huge amounts of email and Internet data from U.S. companies — an operation that the NSA once conducted, was reprimanded for, and says it abandoned.
The heart of the FBI’s signals intelligence activities is an obscure organization called the Data Intercept Technology Unit, or DITU (pronounced DEE-too). The handful of news articles that mentioned it prior to revelations of NSA surveillance this summer did so mostly in passing. It has barely been discussed in congressional testimony. An NSA PowerPoint presentation given to journalists by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden hints at DITU’s pivotal role in the NSA’s Prism system — it appears as a nondescript box on a flowchart showing how the NSA “task[s]” information to be collected, which is then gathered and delivered by the DITU.
But interviews with current and former law enforcement officials, as well as technology industry representatives, reveal that the unit is the FBI’s equivalent of the National Security Agency and the primary liaison between the spy agency and many of America’s most important technology companies, including Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Apple.
The DITU is located in a sprawling compound at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, home of the FBI’s training academy and the bureau’s Operational Technology Division, which runs all the FBI’s technical intelligence collection, processing, and reporting. Its motto: “Vigilance Through Technology.” The DITU is responsible for intercepting telephone calls and emails of terrorists and foreign intelligence targets inside the United States. According to a senior Justice Department official, the NSA could not do its job without the DITU’s help. The unit works closely with the “big three” U.S. telecommunications companies — AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint — to ensure its ability to intercept the telephone and Internet communications of its domestic targets, as well as the NSA’s ability to intercept electronic communications transiting through the United States on fiber-optic cables.
For Prism, the DITU maintains the surveillance equipment that captures what the NSA wants from U.S. technology companies, including archived emails, chat-room sessions, social media posts, and Internet phone calls. The unit then transmits that information to the NSA, where it’s routed into other parts of the agency for analysis and used in reports.
After Prism was disclosed in the Washington Post and the Guardian, some technology company executives claimed they knew nothing about a collection program run by the NSA. And that may have been true. The companies would likely have interacted only with officials from the DITU and others in the FBI and the Justice Department, said sources who have worked with the unit to implement surveillance orders.
“The DITU is the main interface with providers on the national security side,” said a technology industry representative who has worked with the unit on many occasions. It ensures that phone companies as well as Internet service and email providers are complying with surveillance law and delivering the information that the government has demanded and in the format that it wants. And if companies aren’t complying or are experiencing technical difficulties, they can expect a visit from the DITU’s technical experts to address the problem.
* * *
Recently, the DITU has helped construct data-filtering software that the FBI wants telecom carriers and Internet service providers to install on their networks so that the government can collect large volumes of data about emails and Internet traffic.
The software, known as a port reader, makes copies of emails as they flow through a network. Then, in practically an instant, the port reader dissects them, removing only the metadata that has been approved by a court.
The FBI has built metadata collection systems before. In the late 1990s, it deployed the Carnivore system, which the DITU helped manage, to pull header information out of emails. But the FBI today is after much more than just traditional metadata — who sent a message and who received it. The FBI wants as many as 13 individual fields of information, according to the industry representative. The data include the route a message took over a network, Internet protocol addresses, and port numbers, which are used to handle different kinds of incoming and outgoing communications. Those last two pieces of information can reveal where a computer is physically located — perhaps along with its user — as well as what types of applications and operating system it’s running. That information could be useful for government hackers who want to install spyware on a suspect’s computer — a secret task that the DITU also helps carry out.
The DITU devised the port reader after law enforcement officials complained that they weren’t getting enough information from emails and Internet traffic. The FBI has argued that under the Patriot Act, it has the authority to capture metadata and doesn’t need a warrant to get them. Some federal prosecutors have gone to court to compel port reader adoption, the industry representative said. If a company failed to comply with a court order, it could be held in contempt.
The FBI’s pursuit of Internet metadata bears striking similarities to the NSA’s efforts to obtain the same information. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the agency began collecting the information under a secret order signed by President George W. Bush. Documents that were declassified Nov. 18 by Barack Obama’s administration show that the agency ran afoul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court after it discovered that the NSA was collecting more metadata than the court had allowed. The NSA abandoned the Internet metadata collection program in 2011, according to administration officials.
But the FBI has been moving ahead with its own efforts, collecting more metadata than it has in the past. It’s not clear how many companies have installed the port reader, but at least two firms are pushing back, arguing that because it captures an entire email, including content, the government needs a warrant to get the information. The government counters that the emails are only copied for a fraction of a second and that no content is passed along to the government, only metadata. The port reader is designed also to collect information about the size of communications packets and traffic flows, which can help analysts better understand how communications are moving on a network. It’s unclear whether this data is considered metadata or content; it appears to fall within a legal gray zone, experts said.
* * *
The DITU also runs a bespoke surveillance service, devising or building technology capable of intercepting information when the companies can’t do it themselves. In the early days of social media, when companies like LinkedIn and Facebook were starting out, the unit worked with companies on a technical solution for capturing information about a specific target without also capturing information related to other people to whom the target was connected, such as comments on posts, shared photographs, and personal data from other people’s profiles, according to a technology expert who was involved in the negotiations.
The technicians and engineers who work at the DITU have to stay up to date on the latest trends and developments in technology so that the government doesn’t find itself unable to tap into a new system. Many DITU employees used to work for the telecom companies that have to implement government surveillance orders, according to the industry representative. “There are a lot of people with inside knowledge about how telecommunications work. It’s probably more intellectual property than the carriers are comfortable with the FBI knowing.”
The DITU has also intervened to ensure that the government maintains uninterrupted access to the latest commercial technology. According to the Guardian, the unit worked with Microsoft to “understand” potential obstacles to surveillance in a new feature of Outlook.com that let users create email aliases. At the time, the NSA wanted to make sure that it could circumvent Microsoft’s encryption and maintain access to Outlook messages. In a statement to the Guardian, Microsoft said, “When we upgrade or update products we aren’t absolved from the need to comply with existing or future lawful demands.” It’s the DITU’s job to help keep companies in compliance. In other instances, the unit will go to companies that manufacture surveillance software and ask them to build in particular capabilities, the industry representative said.
The DITU falls under the FBI’s Operational Technology Division, home to agents, engineers, electronic technicians, computer forensics examiners, and analysts who “support our most significant investigations and national security operations with advanced electronic surveillance, digital forensics, technical surveillance, tactical operations, and communications capabilities,” according to the FBI’s website. Among its publicly disclosed capabilities are surveillance of “wireline, wireless, and data network communication technologies”; collection of digital evidence from computers, including audio files, video, and images; “counter-encryption” support to help break codes; and operation of what the FBI claims is “the largest fixed land mobile radio system in the U.S.”
The Operational Technology Division also specializes in so-called black-bag jobs to install surveillance equipment, as well as computer hacking, referred to on the website as “covert entry/search capability,” which is carried out under law enforcement and intelligence warrants.
The tech experts at Quantico are the FBI’s silent cybersleuths. “While [the division’s] work doesn’t typically make the news, the fruits of its labor are evident in the busted child pornography ring, the exposed computer hacker, the prevented bombing, the averted terrorist plot, and the prosecuted corrupt official,” according to the website.
According to former law enforcement officials and technology industry experts, the DITU is among the most secretive and sophisticated outfits at Quantico. The FBI declined Foreign Policy’s request for an interview about the unit. But in a written statement, an FBI spokesperson said it “plays a key role in providing technical expertise, services, policy guidance, and support to the FBI and the intelligence community in collecting evidence and intelligence through the use of lawfully authorized electronic surveillance.”
In addition to Carnivore, the DITU helped develop early FBI Internet surveillance tools with names like CoolMiner, Packeteer, and Phiple Troenix. One former law enforcement official said the DITU helped build the FBI’s Magic Lantern keystroke logging system, a device that could be implanted on a computer and clandestinely record what its user typed. The system was devised to spy on criminals who had encrypted their communications. It was part of a broader surveillance program known as Cyber Knight.
In 2007, Wired reported that the FBI had built another piece of surveillance malware to track the source of a bomb threat against a Washington state high school. Called a “computer and Internet protocol address verifier,” it was able to collect details like IP addresses, a list of programs running on an infected computer, the operating system it was using, the last web address visited, and the logged-in user name. The malware was handled by the FBI’s Cryptologic and Electronic Analysis Unit, located next door to the DITU’s facilities at Quantico. Wired reported that information collected by the malware from its host was sent via the Internet to Quantico.
The DITU has also deployed what the former law enforcement official described as “beacons,” which can be implanted in emails and, when opened on a target’s computer, can record the target’s IP address. The former official said the beacons were first deployed to track down kidnappers.
* * *
Lately, one of the DITU’s most important jobs has been to keep track of surveillance operations, particularly as part of the NSA’s Prism system, to ensure that companies are producing the information that the spy agency wants and that the government has been authorized to obtain.
The NSA is the most frequent requester of the DITU’s services, sources said. There is a direct fiber-optic connection between Quantico and the agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland; data can be moved there instantly. From the companies’ perspective, it doesn’t much matter where the information ends up, so long as the government shows up with a lawful order to get it.
“The fact that either the targets are coming from the NSA or the output goes to the NSA doesn’t matter to us. We’re being compelled. We’re not going to do any more than we have to,” said one industry representative.
But having the DITU act as a conduit provides a useful public relations benefit: Technology companies can claim — correctly — that they do not provide any information about their customers directly to the NSA, because they give it to the DITU, which in turn passes it to the NSA.
But in the government’s response to the controversy that has erupted over government surveillance programs, FBI officials have been conspicuously absent. Robert Mueller, who stepped down as the FBI’s director in September, testified before Congress about disclosed surveillance only twice, and that was in June, before many of the NSA documents that Snowden leaked had been revealed in the media. On Nov. 14, James Comey gave his first congressional testimony as the FBI’s new director, and he was not asked about the FBI’s involvement in surveillance operations that have been attributed to the NSA. Attorney General Eric Holder has made few public comments about surveillance. (His deputy has testified several times.)
The former law enforcement official said Holder and Mueller should have offered testimony and explained how the FBI works with the NSA. He was concerned by reports that the NSA had not been adhering to its own minimization procedures, which the Justice Department and the FBI review and vouch for when submitting requests to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
“Where they hadn’t done what was represented to the court, that’s unforgivable. That’s where I got sick to my stomach,” the former law enforcement official said. “The government’s position is, we go to the court, apply the law — it’s all approved. That makes for a good story until you find out what was approved wasn’t actually what was done.”
BY SHANE HARRIS | NOVEMBER 21, 2013
Find this story at 21 November 2013
©2013 The Slate Group, LLC.
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With every fresh leak, the world learns more about the U.S. National Security Agency’s massive and controversial surveillance apparatus. Lost in the commotion has been the story of the NSA’s indispensable partner in its global spying operations: an obscure, clandestine unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that, even for a surveillance agency, keeps a low profile.
For now, law enforcement has trouble monitoring Gmail communications in real time
Despite the pervasiveness of law enforcement surveillance of digital communication, the FBI still has a difficult time monitoring Gmail, Google Voice, and Dropbox in real time. But that may change soon, because the bureau says it has made gaining more powers to wiretap all forms of Internet conversation and cloud storage a “top priority” this year.
Last week, during a talk for the American Bar Association in Washington, D.C., FBI general counsel Andrew Weissmann discussed some of the pressing surveillance and national security issues facing the bureau. He gave a few updates on the FBI’s efforts to address what it calls the “going dark” problem—how the rise in popularity of email and social networks has stifled its ability to monitor communications as they are being transmitted. It’s no secret that under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the feds can easily obtain archive copies of emails. When it comes to spying on emails or Gchat in real time, however, it’s a different story.
That’s because a 1994 surveillance law called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act only allows the government to force Internet providers and phone companies to install surveillance equipment within their networks. But it doesn’t cover email, cloud services, or online chat providers like Skype. Weissmann said that the FBI wants the power to mandate real-time surveillance of everything from Dropbox and online games (“the chat feature in Scrabble”) to Gmail and Google Voice. “Those communications are being used for criminal conversations,” he said.
While it is true that CALEA can only be used to compel Internet and phone providers to build in surveillance capabilities into their networks, the feds do have some existing powers to request surveillance of other services. Authorities can use a “Title III” order under the “Wiretap Act” to ask email and online chat providers furnish the government with “technical assistance necessary to accomplish the interception.” However, the FBI claims this is not sufficient because mandating that providers help with “technical assistance” is not the same thing as forcing them to “effectuate” a wiretap. In 2011, then-FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni—Weissmann’s predecessor—stated that Title III orders did not provide the bureau with an “effective lever” to “encourage providers” to set up live surveillance quickly and efficiently. In other words, the FBI believes it doesn’t have enough power under current legislation to strong-arm companies into providing real-time wiretaps of communications.
Because Gmail is sent between a user’s computer and Google’s servers using SSL encryption, for instance, the FBI can’t intercept it as it is flowing across networks and relies on the company to provide it with access. Google spokesman Chris Gaither hinted that it is already possible for the company to set up live surveillance under some circumstances. “CALEA doesn’t apply to Gmail but an order under the Wiretap Act may,” Gaither told me in an email. “At some point we may expand our transparency report to cover this topic in more depth, but until then I’m not able to provide additional information.”
Either way, the FBI is not happy with the current arrangement and is on a crusade for more surveillance authority. According to Weissmann, the bureau is working with “members of intelligence community” to craft a proposal for new Internet spy powers as “a top priority this year.” Citing security concerns, he declined to reveal any specifics. “It’s a very hard thing to talk about publicly,” he said, though acknowledged that “it’s something that there should be a public debate about.”
Ryan Gallagher is a journalist who reports from the intersection of surveillance, national security, and privacy for Slate’s Future Tense blog. He is also a Future Tense fellow at the New America Foundation.
By Ryan Gallagher
Find this story at 26 March 2013
© 2013 The Slate Group, LLC.
From the ‘Uncle Sam is Watching’ files:
Lots of concern and talk in the last couple of days over the Washington Post’s leaked government story on PRISM.
The TL;dr version is that PRISM was/is an NSA operation that routes American’s private information to the NSA where it can be analyzed in the interest of national security.
While the revelation about NSA PRISM is new – the fact that the U.S. Government has active programs to surveil the Internet for email and otherwise is not.
Back in 2005 it was revealed that the FBI had to abandon it’s own Internet surveillance effort known as Carnivore. With Carnivore, the FBI was quite literally injesting email and Internet content en masse from the U.S .
Officially known as the Digital Collection System 1000 (DCS-1000), Carnivore captures data traffic that flows through an Internet service provider (ISP). The system prompted a flurry of criticism from privacy advocates when it was announced in 2000 during the Clinton administration.
At the time that Carnivore was shut down, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) speculated that, “FBI’s need for Carnivore-like Internet surveillance tools is decreasing, likely because ISPs are providing Internet traffic information directly to the government.”
Eight years later, it looks like EPIC was right – since it would appear based on the WaPo report that the NSA has been getting info directly from providers.
I saw the head of the NSA, General Alexander speak at Defcon last year and he’s slotted to speak as a keynote at Black Hat this year. I wonder if he’ll actually show up now given the revelation of PRISM.
By Sean Michael Kerner | June 06, 2013
Find this story at 6 June 2013
Copyright 2013 QuinStreet Inc.
FBI surveillance experts have put their once-controversial Carnivore Internet surveillance tool out to pasture, preferring instead to use commercial products to eavesdrop on network traffic, according to documents released Friday.
Two reports to Congress obtained by the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the FBI didn’t use Carnivore, or its rebranded version “DCS-1000,” at all during the 2002 and 2003 fiscal years. Instead, the bureau turned to unnamed commercially-available products to conduct Internet surveillance thirteen times in criminal investigations in that period.
Carnivore became a hot topic among civil libertarians, some network operators and many lawmakers in 2000, when an ISP’s legal challenge brought the surveillance tool’s existence to light. One controversy revolved around the FBI’s legally-murky use of the device to obtain e-mail headers and other information without a wiretap warrant — an issue Congress resolved by explicitly legalizing the practice in the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act.
Under section 216 of the act, the FBI can conduct a limited form of Internet surveillance without first visiting a judge and establishing probable cause that the target has committed a crime. In such cases the FBI is authorized to capture routing information like e-mail addresses or IP addresses, but not the contents of the communications.
According to the released reports, the bureau used that power three times in 2002 and six times in 2003 in cases in which it brought its own Internet surveillance gear to the job. Each of those surveillance operations lasted sixty days or less, except for one investigation into alleged extortion, arson and “teaching of others how to make and use destructive devices” that ran over eight months from January 10th to August 26th, 2002.
Other cases investigated under section 216 involved alleged mail fraud, controlled substance sales, providing material support to terrorism, and making obscene or harassing telephone calls within the District of Columbia. The surveillance targets’ names are not listed in the reports.
In four additional cases, twice each in 2002 and 2003, the FBI obtained a full-blown Internet wiretap warrant from a judge, permitting them to capture the contents of a target’s Internet communications in real time. No more information on those cases is provided in the reports because they involved “sensitive investigations,” according to the bureau.
The new documents only enumerate criminal investigations in which the FBI deployed a government-owned surveillance tool, not those in which an ISP used its own equipment to facilitate the spying. Cases involving foreign espionage or international terrorism are also omitted.
Developed by a contractor, Carnivore was a customizable packet sniffer that, in conjunction with other FBI tools, could capture e-mail messages, and reconstruct Web pages exactly as a surveillance target saw them while surfing the Web. FBI agents lugged it with them to ISPs that lacked their own spying capability.
Kevin Poulsen, SecurityFocus 2005-01-14
Find this story at 14 January 2005
Copyright 2010, SecurityFocus
One of the nation’s largest Internet-service providers, EarthLink Inc., has refused toinstall a new Federal Bureau of Investigation electronic surveillance device on its network, saying technical adjustments required to use the device caused disruptions for customers.
The FBI has used Carnivore, as the surveillance device is called, in a number of criminal investigations. But EarthLink is the first ISP to offer a public account of an actual experience with Carnivore. The FBI has claimed that Carnivore won’t interfere with an ISP’s operations.
“It has the potential to hurt our network, to bring pieces of it down,” Steve Dougherty, EarthLink’s director of technology acquisition, said of Carnivore. “It could impact thousands of people.”
While EarthLink executives said they would continue to work with authorities in criminal investigations, they vowed not to allow the FBI to install Carnivore on the company’s network. The company also has substantial privacy concerns.
EarthLink has already voiced its concerns in court. The ISP is the plaintiff in a legal fight launched against Carnivore earlier this year with the help of attorney Robert Corn-Revere, according to people close to the case. Previously, the identity of the plaintiff in the case, which is under seal, wasn’t known. A federal magistrate ruled against EarthLink in the case early this year, forcing it to give the FBI access to its system. Mr. Corn-Revere declined to comment.
EarthLink’s problems with Carnivore began earlier this year, when the FBI installed a Carnivore device on its network at a hub site in Pasadena, Calif. The FBI had a court order that allowed it to install the equipment as part of a criminal investigation.
The FBI connected Carnivore, a small computer box loaded with sophisticated software for monitoring e-mail messages and other online communications, to EarthLink’s remote access servers, a set of networking equipment that answers incoming modem calls from customers. But Carnivore wasn’t compatible with the operating system software on the remote access servers. So EarthLink had to install an older version of the system software that would work with Carnivore, according to Mr. Dougherty.
EarthLink says the older version of the software caused its remote access servers to crash, which in turn knocked out access for a number of its customers. Mr. Dougherty declined to specify how many, saying only that “many” people were affected.
EarthLink executives said they were also concerned about privacy. The company said it had no way of knowing whether Carnivore was limiting its surveillance to the criminal investigation at hand or trolling more broadly. Other ISPs have said there could be serious liability issues for them if the privacy of individuals not connected to an investigation is compromised.
“There ought to be some transparency to the methods and tools that law enforcement is using to search-and-seize communications,” said John R. LoGalbo, vice president of public policy at PSINet Inc., an ISP in Ashburn, Va.
EarthLink executives declined to say whether the company has received court orders for information about other customers since the disruption earlier this year. EarthLink said it would help authorities in criminal investigations using techniques other than Carnivore.
The FBI insists that Carnivore doesn’t affect the performance or stability of an ISP’s existing networks. The bureau says Carnivore passively monitors traffic, recording only information that is relevant to FBI investigations.
In some cases, the FBI said, the ISP is equipped to turn over data without the use of Carnivore. This is common in cases where only e-mail messages are sought because that type of data can easily be obtained through less-intrusive means.
Attorney General Janet Reno said Thursday that she was putting the system under review. She said the Justice Department would investigate Carnivore’s constitutional implications and make sure that the FBI was using it in “a consistent and balanced way.”
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NEIL KING JR. | Staff Reporters of
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On July 11, 2000, the existence of an FBI Internet monitoring system called “Carnivore” was widely reported. Although the public details were sketchy, reports indicated that the Carnivore system is installed at the facilities of an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and can monitor all traffic moving through that ISP. The FBI claims that Carnivore “filters” data traffic and delivers to investigators only those “packets” that they are lawfully authorized to obtain. Because the details remain secret, the public is left to trust the FBI’s characterization of the system and — more significantly — the FBI’s compliance with legal requirements.
One day after the initial disclosures, EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking the public release of all FBI records concerning Carnivore, including the source code, other technical details, and legal analyses addressing the potential privacy implications of the technology. On July 18, 2000, after Carnivore had become a major issue of public concern, EPIC asked the Justice Department to expedite the processing of its request. When DOJ failed to respond within the statutory deadline, EPIC filed suit in U.S. District Court seeking the immediate release of all information concerning Carnivore.
At an emergency hearing held on August 2, 2000, U.S. District Judge James Robertson ordered the FBI to report back to the court by August 16 and to identify the amount of material at issue and the Bureau’s schedule for releasing it. The FBI subsequently reported that 3000 pages of responsive material were located, but it refused to commit to a date for the completion of processing.
In late January 2001, the FBI completed its processing of EPIC’s FOIA request. The Bureau revised its earlier estimate and reported that there were 1756 pages of responsive material; 1502 were released in part and 254 were withheld in their entirety (see link below for sample scanned documents).
On August 1, 2001, the FBI moved for summary judgment, asserting that it fully met its obligations under FOIA. On August 9, 2001, EPIC filed a motion to stay further proceedings pending discovery, on the grounds that the FBI has failed to conduct an adequate search for responsive documents.
On March 25, 2002, the court issued an order directing the FBI to initiate a new search for responsive documents. The new search was to be conducted in the offices of General Counsel and Congressional & Public Affairs, and be completed no later than May 24, 2002. The documents listed above were located and released as a result of that court-ordered search.
Find this story at 11 July 2000
Find the FOIA documents at
A web spying capability, multi-million dollar price tag, and a secret Carnivore ancestor are some of the details to poke through heavy FBI editing.
“ Carnivore is remarkably tolerant of network aberration, such a speed change, data corruption and targeted smurf type attacks. ”
WASHINGTON–The FBI’s Carnivore surveillance tool monitors more than just email. Newly declassified documents obtained by Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Carnivore can monitor all of a target user’s Internet traffic, and, in conjunction with other FBI tools, can reconstruct web pages exactly as a surveillance target saw them while surfing the web. The capability is one of the new details to emerge from some six-hundred pages of heavily redacted documents given to the Washington-based nonprofit group this week, and reviewed by SecurityFocus Wednesday. The documents confirm that Carnivore grew from an earlier FBI project called Omnivore, but reveal for the first time that Omnivore itself replaced a still older tool. The name of that project was carefully blacked out of the documents, and remains classified “secret.” The older surveillance system had “deficiencies that rendered the design solution unacceptable.” The project was eventually shut down. Development of Omnivore began in February 1997, and the first prototypes were delivered on October 31st of that year. The FBI’s eagerness to use the system may have slowed its development: one report notes that it became “difficult to maintain the schedule,” because the Bureau deployed the nascent surveillance tool for “several emergency situations” while it was still in beta release. “The field deployments used development team personnel to support the technical challenges surrounding the insertion of the OMNIVORE device,” reads the report. The ‘Phiple Troenix’ Project In September 1998, the FBI network surveillance lab in Quantico launched a project to move Omnivore from Sun’s Solaris operating system to a Windows NT platform. “This will facilitate the miniaturization of the system and support a wide range of personal computer (PC) equipment,” notes the project’s Statement of Need. (Other reasons for the switch were redacted from the documents.) The project was called “Phiple Troenix”–apparently a spoonerism of “Triple Phoenix,” a type of palm tree–and its result was dubbed “Carnivore.” Phiple Troenix’s estimated price tag of $800,000 included training for personnel at the Bureau’s Washington-based National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC). Meanwhile, the Omnivore project was formally closed down in June 1999, with a final cost of $900,000. Carnivore came out of beta with version 1.2, released in September 1999. As of May 2000, it was in version 1.3.4. At that time it underwent an exhaustive series of carefully prescribed tests under a variety of conditions. The results, according to a memo from the FBI lab, were positive. “Carnivore is remarkably tolerant of network aberration, such a speed change, data corruption and targeted smurf type attacks.
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The FBI can
configure the tool to store all traffic to or from a particular Internet IP address, while monitoring DHCP and RADIUS protocols to track a particular user. In “pen mode,” in which it implements a limited type of surveillance not requiring a wiretap warrant, Carnivore can capture all packet header information for a targeted user, or zero in on email addresses or FTP login data. Web Surveillance Version 2.0 will include the ability to display captured Internet traffic directly from Carnivore. For now, the tool only stores data as raw packets, and another application called “Packeteer” is later used to process those packets. A third program called “CoolMiner” uses Packeteer’s output to display and organize the intercepted data. Collectively, the three applications, Carnivore, Packeteer and CoolMiner, are referred to by the FBI lab as the “DragonWare suite.” The documents show that in tests, CoolMiner was able to reconstruct HTTP traffic captured by Carnivore into coherent web pages, a capability that would allow FBI agents to see the pages exactly as the user saw them while surfing the web. Justice Department and FBI officials have testified that Carnivore is used almost exclusively to monitor email, but noted that it was capable of monitoring messages sent over web-based email services like Hotmail. An “Enhanced Carnivore” contract began in November 1999, the papers show, and will run out in January of next year at a total cost of $650,000. Some of the documents show that the FBI plans to add yet more features to version 2.0 and 3.0 of the surveillance tool, but the details are almost entirely redacted. A document subject to particularly heavy editing shows that the FBI was interested in voice over IP technology, and was in particular looking at protocols used by Net2Phone and FreeTel. EPIC attorney David Sobel said the organization intends to challenge the FBI’s editing of the released documents. In the meantime, EPIC is hurriedly scanning in the pages and putting them on the web, “so that the official technical review is not the only one,” explained Sobel. “We want an unofficial review with as wide a range of participants as possible.” The FBI’s next release of documents is scheduled for mid-November.
Kevin Poulsen, SecurityFocus 2000-10-04
Find this story at 4 October 2000
Copyright 2010, SecurityFocus
Agent Thomas gave a demonstration of both Carnivore 1.34 (the currently
deployed version) and Carnivore 2.0 (the development version) as well as
some of the other DragonWare tools.
Most of this information isn’t new, but it demonstrates that the
DragonWare tools can be used to massively analyze all network traffic
accessible to a Carnivore box.
The configuration screen of Carnivore shows that protocol information can
be captured in 3 different modes: Full, Pen, and None. There are check
boxes for TCP, UDP, and ICMP.
Carnivore can be used to capture all data sent to or from a given IP
address, or range of IP addresses.
It can be used to search on information in the traffic, doing matching
against text entered in the “Data Text Strings” box. This, the agent
assured us, was so that web mail could be identified and captured, but
other browsing could be excluded.
It can be used to automatically capture telnet, pop3, and FTP logins with
the click of a check box.
It can monitor mail to and/or from specific email addresses.
It can be configured to monitor based on IP address, RADIUS username, MAC
address, or network adaptor.
IPs can be manually added to a running Carnivore session for monitoring.
Carnivore allows for monitoring of specific TCP or UDP ports and port
ranges (with drop down boxes for the most common protocols).
Carnivore 2.0 is much the same, but the configuration menu is cleaner, and
it allows Boolean statements for exclusion filter creation.
The Packeteer program takes raw network traffic dumps, reconstructs the
packets, and writes them to browsable files.
CoolMiner is the post-processor session browser. The demo was version
1.2SP4. CoolMiner has the ability to replay a victim’s steps while web
browsing, chatting on ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, AIM, IRC. It can step through
telnet sessions, AOL account usage, and Netmeeting. It can display
information sent to a network printer. It can process netbios data.
CoolMiner displays summary usage, broken down by origination and
destination IP addresses, which can be selectively viewed.
Carnivore usually runs on Windows NT Workstation, but could run on Windows
Some choice quotes from Agent Thomas:
“Non-relevant data is sealed from disclosure.”
“Carnivore has no active interaction with any devices on the network.”
“In most cases Carnivore is only used with a Title III. The FBI will
deploy Carnivore without a warrant in cases where the victim is willing to
allow a Carnivore box to monitor his communication.”
“We rely on the ISP’s security [for the security of the Carnivore box].”
“We aren’t concerned about the ISP’s security.”
When asked how Carnivore boxes were protected from attack, he said that
the only way they were accessible was through dialup or ISDN. “We could
take measures all the way up to encryption if we thought it was
While it doesn’t appear that Carnivore uses a dial-back system to prevent
unauthorized access, Thomas mentioned that the FBI sometimes “uses a
firmware device to prevent unauthorized calls.”
When asked to address the concerns that FBI agents could modify Carnivore
data to plant evidence, Thomas reported that Carnivore logs FBI agents’
access attempts. The FBI agent access logs for the Carnivore box become
part of the court records. When asked the question “It’s often common
practice to write back doors into [software programs]. How do we know you
aren’t doing that?”, Thomas replied “I agree 100%. You’re absolutely
When asked why the FBI would not release source, he said: “We don’t sell
guns, even though we have them.”
When asked: “What do you do in cases where the subject is using
encryption?” Thomas replied, “This suite of devices can’t handle that.” I
guess they hand it off to the NSA.
He further stated that about 10% of the FBI’s Carnivore cases are thwarted
by the use of encryption, and that it is “more common to find encryption
when we seize static data, such as on hard drives.”
80% of Carnivore cases have involved national security.
Marcus Thomas can be contacted for questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or at
(730) 632-6091. He is “usually at his desk.”
24 October 2000
Find this story at 24 October 2000