by Joe Coleman
There’s a top official at the FBI’s Operational Technology Division that recently let it slip they’re hacking software and utilizing Stingrays as tools to catch suspects. The Stingray is a piece of tech that mimics cell phone towers to trick user’s cell phones into connecting to them. The controversy in using the device lies in the fact that it indiscriminately collects and intercepts data from any phone in the area, as well as the targeted device.
The name of the bean-spilling FBI official is Amy Hess, Assistant Executive Director for Science and Technology. “All of the most interesting and troubling stuff that the FBI does happens under Amy Hess,” Christopher Soghoian, ACLU technologist, told The Washington Post. “If it’s high-tech and creepy, it’s happening in the Operational Technology Division.”
The agency also uses a computer hacking technique known as “zero-days”. A zero-day is essentially a vulnerability in software that may not be known to the developer. A hacker then attacks that code to exploit those very vulnerabilities. Hess admitted the FBI uses zero-days but claimed it isn’t a preferred technique. Biometric databases and rapid DNA-matching machines are also employed by the Operational Technology Division.
In November, the ACLU obtained the DOJ’s guidelines on the use of Stingray tech. They revealed the surveillance tool is capable of recording the numbers of a mobile phone’s incoming and outgoing calls, in addition to intercepting the content of voice and text communications. Despite these powerful tools, Hess asserts the agency faces technology challenges such as the inability to analyze massive amounts of digital data. Yet, the FBI developed a platform to analyze data for counter-terrorism and criminal probes called Insight. Insight can track the online sites a suspect visits, slurp emails from a suspect’s account, and even reconstruct deleted emails.
This new information may lead one to wonder whether their personal and intimate calls have ever been sucked up without a warrant by this Stingray device. You may remember, the FBI kinda has a sordid history of fuckery starting with J. Edgar Hoover. Getting your telecommunications data slurped by them may not be the most comfortable feeling.
Following the Paris attacks, government agencies singled out encryption and alleged that the attackers utilized the technology to avoid suspicion. This is despite any evidence the terrorists used such tactics. Media reports regarding encryption following the attacks often ignored the fact that numerous researchers, journalists, and normal citizens make use of encryption apps every day. In the near future, encryption apps may become important tools more and more everyday citizens use to combat overreaching government intrusion.