“The Government Did Not Need a Warrant….” — In support of NIT’s

WOW, that is all I have to say up front. A federal Judge responding to motions filed in one of the Tor hidden service cases against users of the “Playpen” child pornography site found that the FBI did not need a warrant to use a Network Intrusion Tool (NIT). If you have not read Judge Henry Coke Morgan, Jr’s finding in the Playpen child pornography case you need to, find it here Judge Morgans Ruling.

After you read it come back and let’s chat….

Okay, now that you have done your light reading, let us review a few things.  First, I am a huge proponent of law enforcement use of “Policeware” (for full disclosure my company received a grant from the USDOJ Bureau of Justice Assistance to build a NIT for local law enforcement’s use).  Judge Morgan hpolicewareas done a fine job of recognizing and validating the use of these tools by law enforcement. He commented in his decision, “As noted in Levin, “NITs, while raising serious concerns, are legitimate law enforcement tools.” 2016 WL2596010, at *8.”.  Judge Morgan presents, in his 58-page opinion, several serious points of interest to law enforcement investigators. After reviewing numerous motions before the Court, he concluded “The Court finds that no Fourth Amendment violation occurred here because the Government did not need a warrant to capture Defendant’s IP address,”. This decision alone is significant in that the Court felt that no warrant was needed for the FBI to deploy their Network Intrusion Tool (NIT), even though they had originally obtained one for its use in this case. Partly it was because of the nature of the tools limited identification of information from the target computer. The Defense had said that the original warrant was not specific enough, but the Judge pointed out the FBI was only seeking 7 pieces of information and specified exactly what that information was that they sought.

Judge Morgan supported his opinions with well thought out reasoning. However, this does not mean that everyone agrees. The Judge’s decision has met with much consternation by those viewing this as an overreach by government and an invasion of privacy. Mark Rumold of the Electronic Freedom Foundation complained in a recent blog posting that the decision was “…a dangerously flawed decision …”. Rumold further commented “The implications for the decision, if upheld, are staggering: law enforcement would be free to remotely search and seize information from your computer, without a warrant, without probable cause, or without any suspicion at all.” Well, that is a little bit of an overreach of what the Judge said. In fact, I think the Judge succinctly put that based on the architecture of the Internet and how browsers work the targets of the investigation traveled to Virginia over the Internet. This then gave the Magistrate Judge the authority to issue a warrant because the target had traveled to Virginia to access the Tor Hidden Service.

As anyone knows on the law enforcement side, law enforcement is never free to search anything and this decision did not extend the reach of law enforcement. What it did do, was to help define what technology can be used in a cyber-investigation. It also helped to legitimize law enforcement’s deployment of NIT’s and make them Legitimate law enforcement tools… This is fantastic, it is about time that law enforcement can use the technology available to them in a meaningful way to fight crime online.  Although, the larger media and its audience will not recognize it, this decision is to cyber-crime investigators what the North Hollywood shootout was to patrol officers. Instead of crazies with machine guns and bulletproof vests being fought off by police officers with revolvers, this case has the chance to change cyber investigators still using Window XP into cyber-crime SWAT guys. Special Weapons and Tactics will take on a completely new meaning within the cyber-crime arena. The deployment of NIT’s will change how we collectively seek out those committing crimes on the Internet.

So what does this mean going forward? It means law enforcement can actually catch more bad guys committing crimes on the Internet. It means cyber-crime investigators can come Snip from orderout of the dark and become aggressive members of the law enforcement establishment.   According to Judge Morgan “The Government’s efforts to contain child pornographers, terrorists and the like cannot remain frozen in time; the Government must be allowed to utilize its own advanced technology to keep pace with our world’s ever-advancing technology and novel criminal methods.”

Thank you Judge Morgan for understanding the technology, and making sense of the Internet policing front line. Sadly, at this time this is only a single Judges ruling. We can only hope that our well-reasoned and intelligent Judiciary will understand the technology and come up with similar findings in other cases.

Riddle Me this Batman: Doing Google Search Warrants

One of the unique aspects of my “job” is I get to see investigative reports on various cases and how they develop. Recently, I was looking at the investigative efforts of an agency on a child porn case. It was a simple case really. The suspect used a gmail account to send illegal images to a covert account, which also happened to be a gmail account. But I have my questions.

The investigative agency got a search warrant and served it on Google. However, for some reason the matter was not sealed. If one searches the gmail account name you can actually still find the case which references the search warrant, i.e., USA v. actual name of the gmail account.

Yeah, big problem Batman. And guess what? The suspect went missing for a year. First question, why was the search application not sealed in this day in age, particularly on a case seeking a search warrant an email account? I am just guessing but maybe this suspect did a Google search on his email or even had an alert set up to notify him when his email showed up on the web. Hence, the reason he was missing for a year.

Next few questions in this case revolve around the search warrant affidavit and what they were seeking. In this case they only asked for “the email account”, which apparently is all they got. They got email to and from the suspect and their attachments. This was the meat of the issue and showed he sent and received illegal images. However, why didn’t they seek and obtain other aspects of the Google account in their application?

Specifically, they interacted with this suspect via email from another gmail account. Why not have also interacted with him using Google chat function too? It is after all highly likely that this suspect also used Google’s chat service to trade child porn, if not worse. Additionally, what about asking for everything on the Google drive too? I mean, individuals don’t just store data on hard drives now. Why not also explain that law enforcement also needed data from this subject’s Google drive in the search application?

Additionally, individuals often times will search via Google while they are signed into their account. Guess what? Google will frequently have that history saved. Won’t it be good to also have that evidence that subject was searching for these images too?
These last two questions, concerning the Google drive and the search history, become particularly important when we consider that when they found this suspect his computer was long gone. Sure they have the emails messages and attachments sent back and forth. But is it possible that he still has images saved in his Google drive?

Additionally, this suspect initially claimed his account was “hacked.” One way to overcome the “hacked” defense is the person was doing other activity at the time they were looking for porn. For instance, one minute he is looking for an address for a job and the next he is surfing for porn followed by searching for a car part etc. Also, having the IP address from where the account was accessed during the email and browsing sessions would also have been helpful to defeat the hacker defense, particular as they didn’t have the suspect’s computer. Thankfully, he later admitted he was using the account to trade child porn and dropped the hacker defense.

Final question is they apparently never went back and got search warrants for the original Google account and additional email accounts after his admission over a year later. Do we really believe that he only traded child porn for a two month period? With his admission and the evidence already gathered it appears that there would be plenty of probable cause, which wasn’t stale, to get additional search warrants for these accounts. I get that they had plenty of evidence but shouldn’t they make sure they checked these accounts again. We don’t stop searching a building because we found drugs in one room. What if there were more than just additional images in those accounts, such as evidence that he was involved in molesting a child?

Granted I am playing arm chair detective here and they have the guy. My point to all this is we need to start looking at Google as more than just an email service. It is cloud storage provider and in many ways contains as much and maybe more pieces of electronic evidence than a traditional computer. So Batman, what you think? On that note, I left a cigar lit somewhere.

Use of Policeware on the Rise

Policetape.image

The challenge for law enforcement and intelligence agencies investigating Internet crimes are those users who hide themselves using various “anonymization” techniques. Internet anonymization techniques allow targets of criminal and terrorist investigations to hide themselves from other Internet users. In normal circumstances, this can be a privacy concept employed to prevent others from identifying a user in legitimate situations. The issue for law enforcement investigators and the intelligence community becomes when criminals and terrorists use this same technology to prevent their victims or government from identifying who they are and hiding their location.

The misuse of Internet anonymization poses unique investigative challenges. However, criminals and terrorist can be identified given certain circumstances and the appropriate application of social engineering skills and investigative tools and techniques. The challenge is; 1) knowing that there are methods to employ; and, 2) obtaining training regarding employing those methods.

In recent years, a new category of computer coding for government agencies has developed and are referred to as “policeware” or “govware”.  The recent exposure of one of the companies involved in this industry “HackingTeam”, from Italy, has shed light on these tools’ use by law enforcement and the intelligence community. HackingTeam’s company servers were broken into by as yet unknown hackers and their company and client information exposed to the world.  Retaliatory strikes by the hacking community, purportedly as supporters of freedom and protecting the innocent, is nothing new. Just a few years ago Gamma Group from Germany, another large company in the Policeware industry, also was hacked and had internal material and code exposed.

What both of these incidents revealed to the world the extent to which the law enforcement community (mainly at an involved county’s  National level) and the intelligence community’s efforts are to identify investigative targets. It also shows that there are a series of tools available that can further investigations into anonymous users.  Generally, most investigators are unaware that there are several categories of tools to assist in the investigation of anonymous users. These can include: Server side scripting, Target side scripting, and Total device compromise (complete takeover of a machine). Other traditional methods of evidence collection against targets can include general Network surveillance (sniffing your network for clues), Physical access compromise and Lawful interception techniques like a traditional wiretap but of a computer).  These varied investigative techniques require additional training and education for the law enforcement community. This training and education not only includes the technical aspects of the tool deployment but also the legal implications of employing these techniques against a criminal target. Unfortunately, this information is currently not generally available. Law enforcement should look to a broader acceptance of these more offensive techniques to continue their efforts in protecting their communities. Certainly, the U.S. federal law enforcement agencies are using these techniques. In his recent comments to the House Intelligence Committee hearing on cybersecurity, FBI Director James Comey said about criminals using the Darknet that if they “use the onion router to hide their communications.. They think that if they go to the dark web… that they can hide from us.” But, he says: “They’re kidding themselves, because of the effort that’s been put in by all of us in the government over the last five years or so, that they are out of our view.” The methods and techniques to reveal criminals online is diverse.  Law enforcement investigators are beginning to employ a variety of methods that will further their investigations and catch criminals who thought they were untouchable.

Silk Road 2.0: A Cheap Imitation of the Original

Last week it was announced that law enforcement had again taken down illegal Tor markets. Kudos to law enforcement on their apparent success! Although, they took down several such online market places, the one that caught everyone’s attention was Silk Road 2.0, the heir apparent to the original, shut down a little over a year ago. But has anyone really compared the original Silk Road to 2.0? It appears that 2.0 is a cheap knock off or imitation.

The Original

The first Silk Road was in operation from approximately February 2011 to October 2013, roughly 32 months. It reportedly had total sales of about $1.2 billion, earning $80 million in commissions. It also had over 13,000 in drug listings. When it was initially shut down, 26,000 Bitcoins (BTC) were seized from Silk Road accounts, worth approximately $3.6 million at the time. However, there was also 144,000 BTC, or about $28 million, seized from the purported mastermind. We have little information that it was every hacked, at least to any great extent. We have no information to date its fall was due to an undercover agent working on the inside.

Silk Road 2.0

Silk Road 2.0, operated from about November 2013 to October 2014, roughly about 12 months. One particular month’s sales were noted at $8 million. At a 5% commission, this earned the illegal business about $400,000. However, we can’t say they averaged $8 million a month. In fact, shortly after Silk Road 2.0 start-up it was hacked, losing about $1.5 million in BTC. It reportedly had drug listings of about 14,024. We have information that only about $1 million has been seized at the present time. Finally, the complaint reflects that early on an undercover agent was on board, working with the supposedly more “secure” management team.

Looking at longevity, total sales, and amount seized Silk Road 2.0 pales in comparison to the original. The only area Silk Road 2.0 appears to exceeded the original in was total drug listings. However, more listings did not translate into more money. To be fair to Silk Road 2.0, they clearly had more competition than the original. But I think that success is all negated when one considers they were hacked and had an undercover agent working on the inside.

Now we have news that Silk Road 3.0 has started up. Maybe someone should point out to the new Dread Pirate Roberts that this franchise appears to be a dead end. You can’t spend all those earned BTC commissions very well in prison, particularly if they end up being seized. One thing I would point out though, which kind of sends chills up my spine. Both Silk Road and 2.0, were not run by career drug dealers. They were run by tech savvy individuals, with no brick and mortar drug dealing expertise. With the kind of money being made it will not be long, if it hasn’t happened already, that a traditional drug dealer or gang will decide to go “high tech” into Tor’s marketplace. When that happens, this so called “safe” online market place will become a lot more dangerous for those involved. On that thought, I left a cigar lit somewhere.

Additional Reading

More Than 400 .Onion Addresses, Including Dozens of ‘Dark Market’ Sites, Targeted as Part of Global Enforcement Action on Tor Network

Operator of Silk Road 2.0 Website Charged in Manhattan Federal Court

Original Silk Road Complaint

Silk 2.0 Complaint

Silk Road 3.0 Opens for Business

The FBI’s Plan For The Millions Worth Of Bitcoins Seized From Silk Road

Silk Road Reload – 3.0 is already up and running

The new main page of what purports to be the reboot of Silk Road says “This is no place for men without souls. We rise again Silk Road 3.0.” Check it out, the new site address is at http://qxvfcavhse45ckpw.onion.

2014-11-07_14-42-08 Redo

 

Who knows if this is a reboot by the 2.0 staff or a total take over of the name and concept by new people. Whatever it is the store is open.

2014-11-07_14-48-10 for sale

 

No doubt that someone is interested in the millions of dollars in Bitcoin possible in the name, The site appears to have reopened with in just two days of the FBI’s take down of the Silk Road 2.0 and many of its competitors. From a business model having all your competitors eliminated in one large law enforcement take down is pretty helpful.

At least the new Dread Pirate Roberts is polite….

2014-11-07_14-45-43 DPR Message

How long until the next hand off to a new DPR….FBI, the ball is in your court.

 

Operation Onymous- What it actually means for law enforcement and the Internet

By now most of the Internet has heard and is digesting the actions of law enforcement agents around the world taking down the infamous Silk Road 2 and other online Tor hidden markets. The question for all of us now is what does this mean in the future? We have been talking about the subject of Internet Investigations for more than two decades. The normal conversation is about how difficult it is and how law enforcement does not have the capacity to stay up with the online criminals. I think this week’s efforts will be game changer in the general investigative philosophy of law enforcers.

What this week has shown the community of law enforcement, as well as the for the criminals, is that law enforcement does have the ability to extend their reach into the darkest places of the Internet. The have the ability to find the criminals, identify them and handcuff them in the real world. Internet investigations have now been brought out into the light of day as a real and productive opportunity for policing in the 21st century. What the average law enforcement investigator needs to take away from this week is that they can go online, they can investigate internet crimes, and they can protect their communities from criminals hiding amongst them using anonymization.

Investigating crimes on the Internet does take some understanding of the technology and it does require training in the proper techniques and skills required to successfully conduct these investigations.

But, these crimes can be investigated…