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Supreme Court Grants FBI Decentralized Hacking Warrants

The U.S. Supreme Court passed a proposed change to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, one of the main bodies of law that governs the powers and behavior of the FBI. Previously, Rule 41 stated that a judge may only hand out a warrant to be issued within the district they represent, but how do you work within that system when you’re tracking someone whose location has been technologically obscured?

Hacking

The new version of Rule 41, approved on Thursday, removes the requirement in cases where the suspects location cannot be realistically obtained. This means the FBI can ask for, and receive, warrants to hack suspects anywhere in the world.

This comes in the aftermath of a number of legal decisions against the FBI, stemming from the jurisdictional issues presented by the former unrevised Rule 41. The U.S. congress may intervene to stop this rule change, but it’s doubtful that it will choose to do so, especially in an election year. The Supreme Court also changed Rules 4 and 45 in the same decision, but they’re not considered as centrally important by the FBI’s cyber powers.

It’s been difficult until now to get authorization to directly hack anonymous users of the Tor Network and other anonymity groups. In many cases the FBI has had to confirm a user’s rough location before it could ask the appropriate judge for a warrant to conduct further, directed attacks against a known criminal personality. That takes time and in some extra cases may be simply impossible. The Supreme Courts decision means that in cases where the location of a target computer has been concealed through technological means, jurisdiction essentially does not apply at the investigatory phase.

These warrants would still have to meet the normal standards of evidence for a warrant of the type requested, and would have to show that the location of the suspect could not be reasonably attained by other means. In practice, fulfilling this second requirement could be as simple as demonstrating that a suspect uses the Tor Network at all.

To an extent, the FBI’s concerns are unquestionably real, we can’t, as a society, let crime go on simply because technology has been specifically created to run afoul a rule even The Intercept calls a technicality in many situations. The concern is not so much that the FBI will be able to push forward with these sorts of cyber investigations more efficiently, but that the powers will subject to little oversight.

Privacy advocates worry that this could turn into a meta-warrant issued to give the FBI jurisdiction to attack entire anonymity networks like Tor and, potentially the entire user base of such programs. A large proportion of the suspects investigated by the FBI will be found to be outside the Bureau’s ability to prosecute because the criminals will turn out to be in Russia, China, Iran, or just plain old Europe. As UC Hastings, professor of Law Ahmed Ghappour said in a recent paper, The FBI’s increasingly aggressive tactics in pursuing cyber criminals could set off a real international strife, if the FBI is already conducting cyber operations of one kind or another against suspects whose physical location is unknown. With this rule change, it’s expected that activity will become totally routine.

As of right now, the FBI has a real sense of entitlement to try any case in which they’ve done the lions share of the investigation. One instance is the case of Eric Eoin Marques, who will soon be extradited to the U.S. even though he never set foot in the country, or having hosted a single server there. Since the crime was online, it affected the U.S. and can thus motivate an extradition request. The wide open nature of international law has allowed novel modes of cyber crime to more quickly affect the standards for investigation and prosecution than in the U.S.

10 comments

  1. As far as I can tell, Eric Eoin Marques is still in Ireland, presumably, in an Irish jail. It’s good to see that Ireland is just not another puppet state for the US to manipulate as it pleases.

  2. This is game over for pedophiles and drug sites. Normally I’d be happy, except this destroys tor for everyone. You can have the best OPSEC ever and use Whonix/TBB, but those get constantly updated because of patching vulnerabilities. Now that the FBI has been given the ok to legally use those 0days on onion servers, the balance has now been tipped in their favor for sure. This is a game changer.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, the FBI is going to take full advantage of this. Look what they did after 9/11. We wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for Snowden. Now they want to keep on power grabbing. The only silver lining in this is going to be reading about all the pedophiles that get busted because of the new law.

      • John Smith

        Yeah, what if your their next phedifile just cuase they’ve got it in for you, it’s easy enough to do for anyone with the knowledge.Maybe we have to get together and ddos all agencies til they learn who pays their bills (the tax payers). I beleave we need to go after all governments and their minions. Take everything they own and throw them in the streets to starve.I myself, I am going to kick my government in the balls and its not going to like it.
        Its time for the free peoples of the world to stand and fight all enemies (terrorists and Government), the governments created the terrorists (threw their actions) and then all the governments conspire against their own peoples to form this one world government “BS”. “Any Government or elected officials that has or will have led there people to this so called NWO,with out the expressed writen consent of there Peoples Is absolutely 100% guilty of Treason and Under Maritime law we will see you all Hang “

  3. Only a tiny handful of the pedos got busted during the most recent raid; in fact, of the 1,000+ IP addresses revealed out of 250K users, around 10 to 15% have resulted in convictions.

    • Anonymouse

      Yeah, its almost as if they wanted it to fail so they could pass Rule 41. Short term they lose prosecutions of a few hundred people and would likely lose anyway because there was no law allowing them to do what they did. Long term they gain permission to hack anyone that uses tor/i2p/freenet/vpns which equates to thousands of future arrests done legally. Yeah, I’m sure the FBI is really kicking themselves.

      • Tor Boy

        You act like the FBI has powers equivalent to Casper the Ghost! The FBI are just human beings; they are bound by the Laws of Nature just like anyone else!!! Disable JavaScript, use Tails and public Wi-Fi hotspots (as that “anonymous” dude said), and you’ll be fine, unless you dox yourself or are just plain stupid, in which case, you probably need some time in the pokey.

        To date, there are NO html exploits that can do an end-around the Tor Firefox browser, and to date, the only successful attacks have been via JavaScript & flash exploits against Windows users. Now, what is that telling you?!!

        • That Genius Guy

          The only problem with that thinking is there are dozens of libraries and components that get used when a web browser is opened. Javascript is only 1 attack surface among dozens. There have been multiple exploitable vulnerabilities in image and video parsers over the years for example.

          You said:
          “To date, there are NO html exploits that can do an end-around the Tor Firefox browser, and to date, the only successful attacks have been via JavaScript & flash exploits against Windows users.”

          Be careful about the difference between something you think you know and something you know you know. The courts recently told the FBI to give up their NIT hacking tool, to which they said “Hah, nope!”. Even the industry experts don’t know what exploit they’re using. No one knows if its a TBB, Tails, Whonix exploit or an exploit in the tor network itself. Also keep in mind they openly shared the javascript exploit they used to bring down other pedophile sites, but those exploits were already publicly known and patched at that time.

          It only takes a single 0day to bring everything tumbling down for criminals.

          • Which is why you need that “last hop”, anonymous, public Wi-Fi. In any case, the FBI’s own data shows that most real-world Tor users are safe, as occurred with the recent Playpen take-down. Out of 1,000+ IP addresses obtained, less than 20% of all individuals have had charges filed against them, and that was out of 250K users in total.

            Keep your ear to the ground; what I am proposing is completely testable. Remember that raid against the radio station in New York a few months back? Let’s see if any real-world charges result from it; so far, none. If the FBI had evidence, then the perps would have been wearing handcuffs at this point in time. No arrests means no leads which means that anonymous Wi-Fi is safe, if used with Tails & Tor bridges, plus good back-end multi-layered encryption.

  4. I need help with hacking..

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