The FBI hacked into more than 8,000 computers in 120 different countries with just a single warrant


This FBI’s mass hacking campaign is related to the high-profile child pornography Playpen case and represents the largest law enforcement hacking campaign known to date.

The warrant was initially issued in February 2015 when the FBI seized the Playpen site and set up a sting operation on the dark web site, in which the agency deployed malware to obtain IP addresses from alleged site’s visitors.

Earlier this year, court documents related to the Playpen case revealed that the FBI hacked over 1,000 alleged visitors of Playpen in the U.S. using a single warrant, along with computers in Australia, Chile, Colombia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, the UK, Turkey, and Norway during the investigation.

However, the new federal court hearing transcript from a related case reveals that the hack went much further farther and wider than previously believed and that the bureau actually hacked into more than 8,000 users’ computers across 120 different countries.

“We have never, in our nation’s history as far as I can tell, seen a warrant so utterly sweeping,” federal public defender Colin Fieman said in a court hearing at the end of October, according to the transcript.

According to the transcript, the FBI also hacked what has been described as a “satellite provider.” “So now we are into outer space as well,” Fieman said.

“The fact that a single magistrate judge could authorise the FBI to hack 8,000 people in 120 countries is truly terrifying,” Christopher Soghoian, a principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told Motherboard.

The major controversy surrounding the Playpen case has been that Virginia-based US Magistrate Judge Theresa C. Buchanan who signed the warrant did not have the authority to authorize such searches.

However, this would likely change with the changes introduced to the Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure by the US Department of Justice

 

Changes to Rule 41 will Further Expand FBI’s Mass Hacking Capabilities

The changes in this rule are set to take effect on December 1, 2016.

“The US government wants to use an obscure procedure—amending a federal rule known as Rule 41— to radically expand their authority to hack,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said. “The changes to Rule 41 would make it easier for them to break into our computers, take data, and engage in remote surveillance.”

“We believe technology shouldn’t create a lawless zone merely because a procedural rule has not kept up with the times,” writes Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Criminal Division.

If take into effect, privacy activists and cybersecurity experts believe that the US law enforcement will most likely use the changes to Rule 41 to further expand their capabilities of mass hacking techniques.