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FBI, CIPAV, and the Windows Back Doors Revisited

Posted in Microsoft, Security, Windows at 6:30 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Looking through the tube

Summary: How (and why) the American secret services rely on Windows

THE back doors in Microsoft Windows are a serious issue that we've already covered, so there is no point doing it again. Adding to what we already know, there is now this report from Wired Magazine and another from IDG:

CIPAV spyware helped nab unemployed engineer angry over outsourcing

There is also a discussion at Slashdot and one reader of ours wrote: “A good question to ask is, what is it about Windows that allows CIPAV to be so easily activated? Does it even require visiting a contaminated Web site (see the Slashdot article)? What is it in Windows that allows such features?” Here is some relevant information which this reader sent to us:

CIPAV, which stands for “Computer and Internet Protocol Address Verifier,” is secret surveillance software that the FBI used last month to help identify whoever was e-mailing bomb threats almost daily to a Washington high school.


The only clue in the affidavit is that the CIPAV would operate as a pen register for up to 60 days after the software had been “activated” by the recipient. In other words, the FBI swore that the monitor would “time out” after 60 days. But not that it would delete itself or not be able to spread in some worm or bot fashion.

This post neither defense nor criticism of malicious and dangerous behaviour that the FBI is rightly intercepting. It is merely recognition of the operation of Microsoft Windows.

It is not news that the FBI uses Windows viruses (there were several articles about it last year) and the DHS, which recently recruited Microsoft after pressure from the BSA, is now recruiting hackers.
[1] FBI remotely installs spyware to trace bomb threat

While there’s been plenty of speculation about how the FBI might deliver spyware electronically, this case appears to be the first to reveal how the technique is used in practice. The FBI did confirm in 2001 that it was working on a virus called Magic Lantern but hasn’t said much about it since.    

[2] FBI ducks questions about its remotely installed spyware

There are plenty of unanswered questions about the FBI spyware that, as we reported earlier this week, can be delivered over the Internet and implanted in a suspect’s computer remotely.

[3] FBI to Notify Microsoft Windows Users Who Were Victims of Botnets

The Department of Justice and FBI have announced the results of an ongoing cyber crime initiative to disrupt and dismantle “botherders” and elevate the public’s cyber security awareness of botnets.

[4] FBI: Operation Bot Roast finds over 1 million botnet victims

The Department of Justice and FBI Wednesday said ongoing investigations have identified more than 1 million botnet crime victims.

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  1. The Mad Hatter said,

    April 21, 2009 at 11:03 am


    Based on what I’ve read, you are regarded as a probable threat if you run an OS or Web Browser that CIPAV cannot infect. The reasoning seems to be that if you have made the choice to run Linux/OSX or use Firefox/Opera on Windows instead of Internet Exploder, you must have something to hide.

    No, I don’t have details or a link, I remember reading this a while back somewhere, and now can’t remember where.

  2. Roy Schestowitz said,

    April 21, 2009 at 11:14 am


    There’s this recent incident.

  3. Yggdrasil said,

    April 21, 2009 at 7:30 pm


    You are misleading people, again. You should have cited this from the Computer World article:

    “Some user action was CLEARLY REQUIRED to infect the PC with the CIPAV. In the warrant application, the FBI used the term activate several times and alluded to a spyware plant failure if the target did not trigger the CIPAV through the targeted MySpace account. MySpace accounts can’t receive traditional e-mail, so one hacker standard — attach the CIPAV to a message and hope the recipient is stupid enough to launch it — wasn’t available”

    Exactly. If you want to infect a Linux users, it’s as simple as sending them some program and getting them to run it. You also mention Slashdot, but of course, you only mention comments that would be critical of Microsoft. How about these comments instead? Both of which received high rankings.

    “What makes you think they don’t have a variant for Linux? User stupidity (i.e: bad/no security) isn’t unique to Windows. Off the top of my head, if they are relying on the web as an infection vector combined with user stupidity, why not write it into a Firefox extension?

    Yeah, it wouldn’t get your typical /. geek, but most criminals aren’t known for their foresight or intelligence. “Oh, the private website with the bank account information needs me to install this software! Ok, what could possibly go wrong?”

    In response to that:

    “This is an excellent statement. Stupidity knows no bounds. Its also dangerous to assume that the FBI doesn’t know what it is doing. When I worked in law enforcement, the FBI computer crimes agents I knew were well versed in operating systems other than Windows. The two I worked with most often had a solid knowledge of Linux and Cisco IOS.”

  4. Brian Assaf said,

    April 23, 2009 at 7:53 pm


    “If you want to infect a Linux users, it’s as simple as sending them some program and getting them to run it.”

    Um. That easy huh? By default files aren’t executable, so it would require changing the permission. It would also need to be run as root to infect the whole system. How about dependencies? How about architecture differences. Just x86 or 64-bits? MIPS? Arm?
    So on and so forth. Linux isn’t a monoculture (no pun intended here guys/gals!) like the Windows ecosystem is.

    Even a pre-packaged deb (which can be installed ala double click in Ubuntu) would ask for a password, and again, wouldn’t be viable for every Linux distribution out there, architecture not withstanding.

    Having to run something out of the blue is odd if you use a package management system. Cryptographically signed, easily installed/uninstalled and updated (and source available for those interested.)

    Although maybe I’m alone in the 24,000+ packages available in Ubuntu being enough for regular computer use.

    My point here is I’ve unlearned a habit, there is no need to grab software willy nilly off the net. Instead check the repos, and check the source of software. Do you trust it, etc and why should I install this. Plus does it behave like a rootkit, if so then it can be scanned for, if this really does become some sort of popular vector…

    So, yes, you could use social engineering to get someone to install something, but the process should set off a red flag in the user.
    There isn’t some autorun or double click deal here. For those users that understand binaries are a blackbox, where no one can inspect, change, etc. anything, install at your own risk.

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