Germany seeks malware 'specialists' to bug terrorists

Germany seeks malware 'specialists' to bug terrorists
Germany seeks malware 'specialists' to bug terrorists 

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" [1], AAP [2] 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 
surveillance legislation.

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?

[1] 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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