End the Lie

FBI able to secretly turn on laptop cameras without triggering indicator light ‘for several years’

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By End the Lie

(Image credit: Dom W/Flickr)

(Image credit: Dom W/Flickr)

In a recent report by The Washington Post, it was revealed that the FBI has been able to secretly activate a target’s laptop camera “without triggering the light that lets users know it is recording” for several years.

While this may be surprising to some, it really shouldn’t be. Previous reports revealed that the FBI employs hackers to create software to remotely activate the microphones on laptops and cell phones as well as cameras. The U.S. government has also become the world’s largest buyer of malware. The NSA also recommended physically removing the webcam from Apple laptops for security reasons.

In August, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI has developed hacking tools like this for over a decade, though they rarely are discussed publicly.

The Washington Post cites Marcus Thomas, former assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division in Quantico, who said that the remote activation of cameras is used mostly in serious cases.

Thomas, who now sits on the advisory board of Subsentio, a company that helps telecommunications firms comply with federal wiretap laws, told the Post that the bureau uses the technique “mainly in terrorism cases or the most serious criminal investigations.”

As technology advances, the FBI’s surveillance techniques do as well.

“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.

Indeed, in January of this year a report indicated that all data stored on cloud services could be accessed by the U.S. government without a warrant.

In the past, a federal magistrate rejected the FBI’s attempt to get authorization to activate the laptop camera of a suspect. The magistrate ruled that it was “extremely intrusive” and could be a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Federal magistrate Judge Stephen W. Smith also said the Texas-based court did not have the jurisdiction to approve the search of a computer in an unknown location.

Yet, another federal magistrate approved sending surveillance software to a target, though it did not involve remotely activating a computer camera.

The surveillance software gave the FBI a detailed account of the computer of the target – a federal fugitive – including his hard drive space, the chips used on his computer and a list of installed programs.

In the case the Post was reporting on, an individual calling himself “Mo,” probably located in Tehran, made a series of bomb threats.

The FBI obtained a warrant to send surveillance software to Mo’s computer when he sign in to his Yahoo email account but the program “never actually executed as designed,” according to a handwritten note by a federal agent given to a court.

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8 Responses to FBI able to secretly turn on laptop cameras without triggering indicator light ‘for several years’

  1. SamClemons December 7, 2013 at 1:13 PM

    Freely available trojans/malmare (to John Q. Public) have been able to do this for the better part of a decade (or more) that I personally know about. That the FBI has this capability is no surprise. Also the microphone/GPS … .

  2. BARKLEY PONTREE December 9, 2013 at 8:55 AM

    I have two computers and an iPhone. An American Flag Postage stamp perfectly covers the faceview camera on a desktop or laptop and somehow seems, symbolic.

    The iPhone was a little trickier, but my dad, before he died, used those little hearing aid batteries with those orange sticky things and they fit perfectly on the iPhones face camera.

    In the end, the fact remains, we now live with the uberguberment paparazzi listening, watching, and reading everything we do, say, write, surf. So I end each comment I write with:

    Good morning uberguberment.

  3. Rob December 9, 2013 at 4:03 PM

    This is nonsense. Sorry but unless there is malware put on the device you cannot accomplish this on a laptop without it being easily spotted.

    Also, it was the government that forced the issue of tying in the camera light to the actual camera power circuit to circumvent spying in the first place.

    Your cell phones are a different story.. Laptops? Not bloody likely.

    Think some of you should look at the circuit diagrams for laptop hardware and take note that in order for the cameras to be turned on that there is a direct link to the camera power and the indicator lights.

    Wake up people. Not everything is fact just because someone tells you it is true..

    • Anonymous December 9, 2013 at 4:09 PM

      Yeah those crazy conspiracy theorists at the Washington Post!

    • Anonymous December 10, 2013 at 10:17 AM

      Partialy agree. Electrical circuit is responsible of transmiting energy or data, software on the other hand controls light behaviour. Light comes on or off depending on the instructions from the software

  4. jarnkm December 10, 2013 at 10:18 PM

    This is not surprising, given what NSA and the DHS has done over the last decade!! Their actions have sure not been in the best interest of America or “We the Sheeple”!! However, while the majority want to believe the “lie” that followed the Korean Conflict, “We no longer have to worry ab Party for “out Communism coming to America, for we have conquered it”!! What Washington really meant to say was: “Since we have dissolved “The Anti-American Activities (watch) Committee” (??), they have openly allowed the Communist Party to actively operate ‘here at home’ as the Communist Party USA or CPUSA”. Which, incidentally, in May 2010, sued the Democratic Party for stealing its Agenda, renaming it “Progressive” and claiming it as their own!! Here’s your sign!! Had “We the Sheeple” not developed the Ostrich Disease and buried our heads elsewhere than in the sand, we may well have been able to have saved America from readily accepting open Communism. However, we allowed their goals to be passed down through Washington by “Federal Hands” and accepted it as “status quo”!

  5. just December 12, 2013 at 9:31 AM

    With their scallar tech. they don’t even need to hack to computers web cams. or mic; they can directly listen using a completely different techonlogy. Every object in a room resonates hence becomes an antena. The job is very easy when you have some kind of technology that most of ppl don’t even think it’s possible.

    In my country (not USA) our spies also use technology beyond of what most ppl think its even invented or possible. I can’t even imagine what USA can have their hands on. :(
    Anyone thinks it’s not possible to hack into a poor computer mic?
    Yes! it’s not possible if you use civilian tech., but they don’t use that kind of equipment, do they?

  6. Pingback: FBI Can Secretly Turn On Your Laptop Camera

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