FBI reportedly hacks phone, laptop mics when wiretaps won't cut it

Remember when hacking was cool, and not an invasion of privacy?

The perils of living in such a technologically advanced age have never been more apparent than these past few months, as more and more reports of government cyber-surveillance have been uncovered.

The full extent of the acts of U.S. and European governments in regard to monitoring citizens may never truly be known, but one inside man has claimed you're not even safe if your laptop or smartphone is turned off.

According to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has the ability to turn on your Android device's or laptop's microphone to listen in, even when you think the coast is clear.

Apparently the technology was created when the FBI discovered more suspected criminals were "going dark," meaning they were communicating in ways where a wiretap wouldn't be of any use.

Hacking the public

That the U.S. government employs hacking techniques for surveillance shouldn't come as a surprise, but the level of invasion is a bit of a shock.

An unnamed former U.S. official spilled the beans to the paper, adding the FBI typically reserves these types of tactics for organized crime, child pornography rings and counterterrorism.

Thus far, the FBI hasn't been using that power to investigate hackers, for fear of being discovered, and having these ploys outed to the public. Whoops.

The source also stated the FBI has been developing hacking surveillance techniques for more than a decade, though these strategies have never been disclosed legally.

We're sure Google is going to love being dragged back into more invasion of privacy debates, particularly since its been so adamant about not being party to the government's plans.

Spies like US

Not only is the FBI capable of listening in whenever it wants, there's even supposedly a specialized branch, known as the Remote Operations Unit, which not only develops these techniques in-house, but also seeks private companies to create new devices.

The unit uses things like USB drives to install its spying software onto unsuspecting devices, or can get onto a computer from a trojan delivered via a link in an email.

Of course, all of the data captured and used is only that which is relevant to a case, and a whole separate team of screeners looks through the material to deem what's necessary and what should be disregarded.

That the government is trying to find ways around the legal rights afforded to U.S. citizens (like getting warrants for wiretaps) sounds troubling, but let's not confuse this anonymous tipster with Edward Snowden.

How reliable the WSJ's source is we can't know, so while you take this information in, don't go wallpapering your house with aluminum foil just yet.

Via The Verge