Risk
2/18/2011
12:48 PM
50%
50%

FBI Seeks Expanded Web Wiretapping Capability

The agency said it's unable to legally intercept many forms of electronic communication in a timely and efficient manner.

Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters

The FBI is seeking better technology and more authority to improve its Internet wiretapping capability, saying that its current inability to intercept electronic communication in a timely and efficient fashion is a threat to public safety.

Calling the issue "going dark" because the agency is shut out of obtaining potentially important evidence, Valerie Caproni, the FBI's general counsel, outlined both technical and legal problems hindering the bureau's current legal ability to intercept Internet communications even with a court order. Her statements were made in testimony (PDF) before the House Judiciary Committee.

"In the ever-changing world of modern communications technologies … the FBI and other government agencies are facing a potentially widening gap between our legal authority to intercept electronic communications pursuant to court order and our practical ability to actually intercept those communications," she said.

Caproni said the FBI is not seeking to change the way the Internet is designed, but that technology exists to improve the situation that can be deployed "within the current architecture of the Internet."

She said the agency also is not calling for fundamental changes in encryption technologies, although in the past the FBI has suggested that manufacturers of those technologies create a way for the agency gain access to encrypted communications.

Specifically, Caproni said the FBI often faces service providers that don't fully comply with court orders "in a timely and efficient manner," while others do comply but only after "considerable effort and expense by the provider and the government." Others never comply at all, she said.

The main problem is there is no uniform compliance mandate for service providers, according to Caproni. Some are obligated to have the technology in place to comply with Internet wiretapping court orders, while others don't and must develop capabilities as a result of an order.

"In our experience, some providers actively work with the government to develop intercept solutions while others do not have the technical expertise or resources to do so," she said.

The result of these differences in capability is that the FBI is unable to obtain communications and related data "on a regular basis," even when it has the legal authority to do so, Caproni said.

Her testimony outlined two examples of when the "going dark" problem hindered FBI investigation efforts, one in the case of drug trafficking between South America and the United States and the other in a child pornography case.

The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) of 1994 allows service providers to intercept electronic data, but it does not cover Web-based email, social networking, and peer-to-peer services. Caproni did not specifically call for an expansion of the act, but suggested that it is not sufficient to cover the kinds of communications the FBI needs to access to do its job properly.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about letting the agency expand its Internet wiretapping authority.

TechFreedom, a non-profit, technology-policy think tank, issued a "Statement of Concern about the Expansion of CALEA" (PDF) noting that the balance of allowing the government to lawfully protect national security and fight crime "must be reconciled with other important societal values, including cybersecurity, privacy, free speech, innovation, and commerce."

A host of industry groups and other organizations signed the statement, including TechAmerica, the Business Software Alliance, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the Software and Information Industry Association.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Dark Reading Tech Digest, Dec. 19, 2014
Software-defined networking can be a net plus for security. The key: Work with the network team to implement gradually, test as you go, and take the opportunity to overhaul your security strategy.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2014-4467
Published: 2015-01-30
WebKit, as used in Apple iOS before 8.1.3, does not properly determine scrollbar boundaries during the rendering of FRAME elements, which allows remote attackers to spoof the UI via a crafted web site.

CVE-2014-4476
Published: 2015-01-30
WebKit, as used in Apple iOS before 8.1.3; Apple Safari before 6.2.3, 7.x before 7.1.3, and 8.x before 8.0.3; and Apple TV before 7.0.3, allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code or cause a denial of service (memory corruption and application crash) via a crafted web site, a different vulner...

CVE-2014-4477
Published: 2015-01-30
WebKit, as used in Apple iOS before 8.1.3; Apple Safari before 6.2.3, 7.x before 7.1.3, and 8.x before 8.0.3; and Apple TV before 7.0.3, allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code or cause a denial of service (memory corruption and application crash) via a crafted web site, a different vulner...

CVE-2014-4479
Published: 2015-01-30
WebKit, as used in Apple iOS before 8.1.3; Apple Safari before 6.2.3, 7.x before 7.1.3, and 8.x before 8.0.3; and Apple TV before 7.0.3, allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code or cause a denial of service (memory corruption and application crash) via a crafted web site, a different vulner...

CVE-2014-4480
Published: 2015-01-30
Directory traversal vulnerability in afc in AppleFileConduit in Apple iOS before 8.1.3 and Apple TV before 7.0.3 allows attackers to access unintended filesystem locations by creating a symlink.

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
If you’re a security professional, you’ve probably been asked many questions about the December attack on Sony. On Jan. 21 at 1pm eastern, you can join a special, one-hour Dark Reading Radio discussion devoted to the Sony hack and the issues that may arise from it.