Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Government Remotely Disables Software on Personal Computers

The FBI remotely disabled software installed on privately owned personal computers located in the United States.

If this isn’t controversial, it should be.

The software is presumed to be malicious, having been accused of stealing account information and passwords from hundreds of thousands of people.

Does that make it less controversial?

Hundreds of thousands of computers have one less bot on them. That’s certainly a good thing. Hundreds of thousands of computer owners had their computers remotely manipulated by law enforcement. Is that a good thing? A dangerous precedent?

Interesting, for sure.

Update: Gary Warner has an excellent write-up.


  1. I think it's a big difference between the FBI taking control of a criminal botnet that's already installed vs. "remotely disabling" software on personal computers, which implies they did some sort of mass hack. This doesn't even open up any sort of "slippery slope", as the lines here are very clear.

  2. A few extra packets to my PC is just another drip in the bucket along all those Chinese addresses portscanning my poor home router ;)

    Any perception of sovereignty we have with our electronic property (or in general?) is a crutch to feel like we're still in control... Not worth getting worked up over; we're already walked on. Someone can sign a paper because I fit a profile, maybe sent a sarcastic email to someone and I can have all my 'rights' (temporarily) stripped...

    The alternative could be worse if they decided to start holding owners of computers accountable; queue: "Internet insurance", and we'll all be forced to buy!

  3. In this case, the machines were already hacked anyway, so I don't really see a problem with it. If you don't want anyone to be able to change anything on your computer, then you better lock it down. In that case, should you trust automatic updates? Should you install anything that isn't open source? Should you connect to the internet? Should you even turn the dang thing on?

  4. Dave, orev -

    I treat government action differently than the action of a private software company whose software I installed and presumably clicked an 'I agree' somewhere along the line. If I install MS's Malicious Software Removal Tool, I almost certainly explicitly gave them permission to remove malicious software from my computer. I don't know for sure - I didn't read it. ;)

    Likewise, when I clicked the 'I agree' on my Andriod or iPhone, I probably gave Google (Apple) permission to do all sorts of perverse things to my phone, malicious software removal included. I don't know - didn't read them either.

    I do know that I did not give government agents permission to manipulate software on my computer. There was no 'I agree'.

    Having said that, I'm not against what the FBI did. I'm merely pointing out that this action is something that should be discussed, as I believe that for a agency of the government to remotely disable functionality of any kind is precedent setting.

    And the headline was written so that people would read it. ;)

    Justin - the port scanning on our (your) state wide network is in the tens of millions of denied packets per day. The noise is unbelievable, the signal very weak, our syslog servers are busy.

    Your other points are well taken.

    In the case where a law enforcement agent witnesses a crime occurring in my house while I'm home, can the agent enter my house without knocking?

    Some would say yes.

    The way I see it, that's what happened here.