FBI asked judge to help install covert encryption-breaking software in 2003
Newly declassified records show that the FBI asked a judge to help it break encryption software more than a decade ago.
The records, shown to The New York Times, were obtained by a Freedom of Information request from security researcher Ryan Shapiro.
The records reveal that in 2003, the FBI asked a judge for permission to remotely install software on the computers of an animal rights organisation so the encryption software the group was using could be bypassed.
By early 2003, the FBI had been leading a secret investigation codenamed Operation Trail Mix for months, intercepting the phone calls and emails of members belonging to the animal rights group, who the FBI believed were sabotaging the operations of a drug company that tested on animals.
The records show that the FBI worked with a judge to beat encryption more than 13 years before its recent fight against Apple and the battle to break the encryption of the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone.
The New York Times said that the records show what is believed to be the first time the FBI remotely installing covert surveillance software on a target.
However, several important facts from the released records remain unknown. Namely, whether the method to break the encryption was successful or not.
Another concerning revelation from the records is that the Justice Department, which is required by law to reveal every instance of dealing with an encryption wiretapping case, did not report this particular incident in 2003.
Vice president at security firm Radware told TechWeekEurope today that “privacy’s legal comeuppance is upon us”.
Carl Herberger said: “We will see more cases like this coming up and in many countries secret services organisations are looking to get standard access to any kind of data by law – and not as exception.”
The revelations comes as it was revealed this week that the FBI found “nothing of real significance” on the iPhone that has been at the heart of the Apple versus FBI encryption case.
A source told CBS News that the FBI is still empty handed two weeks after it used a third party method to gain access to attacker Farook’s iPhone.
However, the source said the FBI is still continuing its analysis of the contents of the iPhone.
Many security experts are still touting encryption as being key to maintaining digital privacy. CEO of cybersecurity vendor MIRACL told said: “Encryption is the bedrock of privacy online. It is the most effective way to keep information free from the prying eyes of either hackers or government spies.”