Risk

10/4/2013
12:28 PM
50%
50%

Lavabit Owner Fined For Resisting FBI Demands

Unsealed court documents reveal new details in encrypted email service provider's role in protecting identity of whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The owner of shuttered encrypted email service provider Lavabit was being fined $5,000 per day after he refused to give the FBI unfettered access to the systems being used to handle every Lavabit user's communications.

That fact was revealed this week after a federal judge unsealed more than 160 pages of partially redacted documents relating to a June 28 authorization of a pen registration trap on the email account of a Lavabit account holder and to subsequent legal wrangling between Lavabit founder Ladar Levison and federal prosecutors.

While the account holder's name was redacted throughout the court documents, all evidence points to it being NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. In fact, his name was mentioned extant in one document -- filed by Levison's attorney -- but only in relationship to recent concerns by the public over U.S. government spying.

[ 13 men have been charged with attacking sites of RIAA and other organizations thought to be hostile to piracy sites and WikiLeaks. Read more at Operation Payback: Feds Charge 13 On Anonymous Attacks. ]

Levison's service was built to provide anonymity -- not just for the content of their messages, but also the date and time they were sent, the IP addresses for which they were intended, and other metadata. Ultimately, rather than comply with a court order requiring him to disclose all encryption keys and SSL keys pertaining to Snowden's account, as well as all information necessary to decrypt data stored in or otherwise associated with that account, Levison pulled the plug on Lavabit.

His move drew plaudits from many privacy advocates.

But the full story is a little more complicated, as the unsealed court documents now reveal. For starters, Levison -- who was previously subject to a gag order -- was in a bind. "I have always agreed to the installation of the pen register device," he said in a related court hearing on July 16, according to the unsealed documents. "I have only ever objected to turning over the SSL keys because that would compromise all of the secure communications in and out of my network, including my own administrative traffic."

But under U.S. law, with a court order, the FBI has a legal right to install a pen trap device and retrieve email metadata during a criminal investigation. Levison, however, had built a system where the keys encrypting the content of emails were the same keys used to encrypt metadata, and he couldn't easily separate one from the other without extensive coding changes to Lavabit's infrastructure. While he offered to undertake such changes -- in return for "reasonable expenses" of at least $2,000 to cover 60 days' worth of development work -- the FBI argued, and a judge agreed, that given the ongoing criminal investigation, it had a right to the information in a much more timely manner.

So Levison offered to retrieve required messages on a daily basis and upload them to an FBI server. Again, however, the bureau said that wouldn’t meet its requirements; it apparently wanted to follow Snowden's email-related metadata in real time. Levison, meanwhile, argued that the FBI's request for real-time pen trap information didn't appear to be required in the wording of the subpoena he'd received.

On August 2, facing the prospect of a $1,000 daily fine for noncompliance, Levison did furnish the FBI with a printout of the information that would be required to operate the pen register. But according to a court document filed by U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBridge, which read, "this printout, in what appears to be 4-point type, consists of 11 pages of largely illegible characters," it would prove worthless to the bureau if, after the information had been entered manually, any single character was typed incorrectly. Levison subsequently failed to provide the requested information electronically in an industry standard format, despite repeated requests from the Department of Justice.

As a result, a federal judge slapped Levison with a $5,000 daily fine on August 5. Three days later Levison pulled the plug on Lavabit, which he said had more than 400,000 subscribers and generated annual income of between $50,000 and $100,000. Because he was subject to a gag order, Levison released a statement at that time saying only, "I've shut down Lavabit because I refuse to be complicit in the crimes against the American people and the U.S. Constitution. I wish I could say more about our situation."

He also launched an appeal for funds to help pay for related legal costs. The fundraising campaign, which lists a goal of $96,000, by Friday morning had raised more than $70,000, courtesy of more than 1,800 donors.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View
moarsauce123
50%
50%
moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
10/7/2013 | 10:05:38 PM
re: Lavabit Owner Fined For Resisting FBI Demands
So clearly this just means we're setting up a server in Venezuela now or Iceland and firing Lavabit back online? Subpoena's will then be useless.
Mathew
50%
50%
Mathew,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/8/2013 | 4:06:07 PM
re: Lavabit Owner Fined For Resisting FBI Demands
If you trust the government of Venezuela or Iceland to not issue a secret court order giving them direct, surreptitious access to local versions of Lavabit, or the NSA then hacking into their access mechanism.
Want Your Daughter to Succeed in Cyber? Call Her John
John De Santis, CEO, HyTrust,  5/16/2018
Don't Roll the Dice When Prioritizing Vulnerability Fixes
Ericka Chickowski, Contributing Writer, Dark Reading,  5/15/2018
New Mexico Man Sentenced on DDoS, Gun Charges
Dark Reading Staff 5/18/2018
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: "Security through obscurity"
Current Issue
Flash Poll
[Strategic Security Report] Navigating the Threat Intelligence Maze
[Strategic Security Report] Navigating the Threat Intelligence Maze
Most enterprises are using threat intel services, but many are still figuring out how to use the data they're collecting. In this Dark Reading survey we give you a look at what they're doing today - and where they hope to go.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2018-7268
PUBLISHED: 2018-05-21
MagniComp SysInfo before 10-H81, as shipped with BMC BladeLogic Automation and other products, contains an information exposure vulnerability in which a local unprivileged user is able to read any root (uid 0) owned file on the system, regardless of the file permissions. Confidential information suc...
CVE-2018-11092
PUBLISHED: 2018-05-21
An issue was discovered in the Admin Notes plugin 1.1 for MyBB. CSRF allows an attacker to remotely delete all admin notes via an admin/index.php?empty=table (aka Clear Table) action.
CVE-2018-11096
PUBLISHED: 2018-05-21
Horse Market Sell & Rent Portal Script 1.5.7 has a CSRF vulnerability through which an attacker can change all of the target's account information remotely.
CVE-2018-11320
PUBLISHED: 2018-05-21
In Octopus Deploy 2018.4.4 through 2018.5.1, Octopus variables that are sourced from the target do not have sensitive values obfuscated in the deployment logs.
CVE-2018-8142
PUBLISHED: 2018-05-21
A security feature bypass exists when Windows incorrectly validates kernel driver signatures, aka "Windows Security Feature Bypass Vulnerability." This affects Windows Server 2016, Windows 10, Windows 10 Servers. This CVE ID is unique from CVE-2018-1035.