By John Leyden
21st November 2007
The German government has reportedly started hiring coders to develop
"white hat" malware capable of covertly hacking into terrorists' PCs.
The recruitment push signals that the German government is going ahead
with controversial plans, yet to be legally approved, to develop "remote
forensic software" (AKA a law enforcement Trojan). BKA federal police
have been directed by the Interior Ministry to resume the initiative and
hire two "specialists" , AAP  reports.
Proposals to give explicit permission for law enforcement officials to
plant malware stem from a Federal Court ruling earlier this year
declaring clandestine searches of suspects' computers to be inadmissible
as evidence, pending a law regulating the practice. Germany's Federal
Court of Justice said the practice was not covered by existing
The former East Germany, and the country as a whole before the war, has
a dark history of official surveillance. The idea of a law enforcement
Trojan has sparked a fierce civil liberties debate, as well as
objections from the IT security community.
Geoff Sweeney, CTO with security firm Tier-3, said since the Trojans
will almost certainly be launched against suspects disguised as a
harmless email, they pose a serious IT security threat if they fall into
the wrong hands.
"Reworking of malware goes on all the time. If these Trojans are
developed specifically for German anti-terrorist usage, it's almost
certain that conventional IT security software will have no protection
against their usage on civilian PCs," he said.
Law enforcement Trojans, under active consideration in Austria as well
as Germany, are a thoroughly bad idea.
Would-be terrorists need only use Ubuntu Linux to avoid the ploy. And
even if they stuck with Windows their anti-virus software might detect
the malware. Anti-virus firms that accede to law enforcement demands to
turn a blind eye to state-sanctioned malware risk undermining trust in
their software, as evidenced by the fuss created when similar plans for
a "Magic Lantern" Trojan for law enforcement surfaced some years ago.
Even if, for arguments sake, security firms ignore state-sanctions from
the US and Germany, would they also ignore Trojans from the Chinese
People's Liberation Army or Nigeria?
 Germany has no shortage of convicted VXers potentially up to the job
of writing malware. Most notable is Sven Jaschan, self-confessed
author of the infamous Sasser worm. Jan de Wit, infamous author of
the Anna Kournikova worm, comes from the Netherlands, just over the
border with Germany. Thanks to EU rules on free movement of labour,
he might also be eligible to apply.
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