FBI Can Secretly and Remotely Activate Built-In Laptop Cameras

By:  Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.
FBI Can Secretly and Remotely Activate Built-In Laptop Cameras

The National Security Agency (NSA) has no monopoly on the use of intrusive surveillance tools to keep us all under the watchful eye of government.  A story in the Washington Post reveals that the FBI can remotely activate laptop cameras without users knowing they're being watched.

The Washington Post reports that an elite team of hackers employed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have developed an application that turns on built-in laptop cameras. According to details provided in the story, the software can be turned on remotely by the g-men and perhaps most notably, the little green light that typically signals a “live” camera is not illuminated when this application is in use.

In documents describing tactics uses by the FBI to track an elusive suspected terrorist threat named “Mo,” a short history of the program is revealed.

The FBI has been able to covertly activate a computer’s camera — without triggering the light that lets users know it is recording — for several years, and has used that technique mainly in terrorism cases or the most serious criminal investigations, said Marcus Thomas, former assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division in Quantico, now on the advisory board of Subsentio, a firm that helps telecommunications carriers comply with federal wiretap statutes.

Virtual hideouts are becoming increasingly rare as the federal government’s hired hackers create increasingly sophisticated and surreptitious software, all with the aim of stretching the size of the surveillance net.

The FBI’s technology continues to advance as users move away from traditional computers and become more savvy about disguising their locations and identities. “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 said, referring 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.”

Once “Mo” signed on to his Yahoo mail account, the spyware would be immediately activated and the feds could see anything within the sight of his built-in webcam. Incidentally, in a statement made to the Washington Post, Yahoo claimed it knew nothing of the operation and did not participate with the government in targeting one of its users.

Although this “network investigative technique” is shockingly invasive, it’s not the first such furtive device used by the feds to watch and listen to citizens when they think they are safe from the prying eyes and eavesdropping ears of the federal government.

And, not only does the government have and use a variety of sophisticated surveillance techniques to watch us, but the courts continue to rubber stamp the legally suspect searches.

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