German Authorities Use Spy Software to Watch Citizens Internet Activity

In an attempt to monitor and intercept citizens’ internet travels, e-mail, chat and more, the German government has created a “Trojan Horse Program.” The software was developed to intercept internet phone calls through legal wiretaps. It was exposed by Hackers who felt the Government was exceeding its scope of legal activity. Do you think this type of software should be allowed? What stops foreign governments from invading other countries citizens’ information through the internet?

“Clearly the limits set by the Federal Constitutional Court have been massively violated,” said Claudia Roth, co-leader of the Green Party. An investigation into the incident has been demanded.

German states have admitted to using the program, but maintain the software was implemented legally and court orders were always obtained. But there are conflicting reports and a lawyer has come forward claiming the software was used against his client without a court order.  The lawyer told journalists that his client’s laptop computer had been deliberately infected with the Trojan Horse by Customs agents in 2009. A German firm, DigiTask, defended that the program was likely a tracking program it sold to Bavarian authorities in 2007, and not spy software from the German Trojan Horse Program. Similar spy software has been sold by DigiTask to government officials in Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. The firm said it has never sold its software outside of Europe.

A landmark court decision in Germany in 2008 permitted limited use of such spying software to help government officials enforce wiretap orders as a countermeasure to alleged increased use of encrypted internet telephone software by criminals and terrorists.  Government agencies that used DigiTask’s software said it was limited to conducting legal wiretaps

The German software touches on various sensitive subjects for internet users and civil liberties advocates.  U.S. officials toyed with the idea of spying on private computers in America to fight crime or terrorism.  A program developed by the FBI in 2001, called Magic Lantern, which was similar, but was abandoned after a series of news stories.

How can surveillance be successfully implemented in a limited form? Will governments overstep their authority if not watched closely? What type of new “terrorist attacks” could potentially happen through new types of spy software? If another country developed software to “infect” our networks wouldn’t this cause a new type of world destruction?

 

2 comments

  1. The 2008 decision allows the German government to screen very specific communications- essentially, VoIP telephone calls. But, it seems like this “R2D2” virus oversteps its bounds by a long shot. According to the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) analysis, the malware doesn’t just collect information as part of a legal wiretap; it has backdoor functionality that allows it to load and execute programs on the host computer. (Law enforcement would never use this to plant evidence, right?) It can capture voice data, keystrokes, and imagery from infected computers. It can even activate a computer’s webcam or microphone (http://www.ccc.de/en/updates/2011/staatstrojaner).

    DigiTask, apparently, never put in safeguards to make sure that the malware could only be used for wiretapping VoIP calls, as mandated by the 2008 decision. In fact, the CCC’s analysis reveals serious security holes that allow any third-party, not just the government, to assume control of a computer infected with R2D2. “The security level this trojan leaves the infected systems in is comparable to it setting all passwords to ‘1234’” (Id.).

    The bottom line is this: Protect yourself and your computer by maintaining a clean system. Use adequate virus protection, perform regular maintenance, and regulate which IP addresses are allowed communicate with your computer.

  2. I understand the reason for the development of such software, but it must be used for the right reasons. People should be more alert to using certain software in their computers because as this post clearly details, anything can happen (even through customs). We provide software for Internet monitoring and filtering that protects your computer much the same way as different virus protection programs do for your computer to prevents situations like these.

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