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Carnivore's Real Plans?

By bigdogs in News
Sun Jul 16, 2000 at 05:27:39 PM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)

Robert Cringely's latest article at pbs.org raises several questions about Carnivore, the FBI's plans to monitor all incoming and outgoing email at ISP's (official FBI link is here).

Cringely's main points are these: Since Carnivore is essentially a sniffer, why can't they just colo a box at an ISP and sniff to their heart's content? Or, why can't they just ask the ISP to sniff for them? After all, that's how wiretapping works.

His theory is this (quoting from the article):

"But I have my own theory about Carnivore. From a network architecture standpoint, the best location for Carnivore is right after the ISP's router. This puts Carnivore in the path of every packet entering or leaving the ISP. It's also a major reason why ISPs might not want to install Carnivore boxes -- it's the network's point of greatest vulnerability. In this position, Carnivore can act as a listening and recording device, OR IT CAN ACT AS A SWITCH. If we ever hear a proposal from the FBI in which it plans to install Carnivores at all 6000 ISPs in the U.S., we'll be giving the government the power to do something it can't do right now.

Shut the Internet down. "

Personally, I think Cringely is on the right track. What do the rest of you think?

(BTW, this is my first submission to K5. Editorial comments are appreciated.)


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Carnivore's Real Plans? | 32 comments (27 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
Shut down the internet? (4.50 / 4) (#5)
by hooty on Sun Jul 16, 2000 at 04:51:07 PM EST

Sure, they could shut down the internet... for about 5 minutes. Then all the ISPs would just unplug the box and plug their networks back in. What would be the point?

Re: Shut down the internet? (3.70 / 3) (#6)
by kovacsp on Sun Jul 16, 2000 at 05:04:24 PM EST

Not if its illegal to unplug the box. Jeez. This is the government we're talking about. Learn how to oppress peoples' rights, eh? :)

[ Parent ]
Re: Shut down the internet? (3.00 / 1) (#8)
by SpiderBoris on Sun Jul 16, 2000 at 05:07:26 PM EST

Wouldn't that be a little like cutting off their noses to spite their faces?

After all, think of the revenue generated by ecommerce, domain registration, etc. Since the purpose of government is to redistribute wealth why would they want to turn off the internet? Especially since the whole point of the 'net architecture is to ignore the dropping out of nodes, other sites not affected elsewhere in the world would just fill the open niches left by the non-functional sites.

No, as I see it, the FBI just wants to *control* the 'net.

NB: I live out of the US, and have no particular axe to grind.
-- Cut off my head to email me...
[ Parent ]

Re: Shut down the internet? (5.00 / 1) (#10)
by legLess on Sun Jul 16, 2000 at 06:10:32 PM EST

Perhaps the idea has more ramifications than you think. I don't think the FBI's that stupid (no, really!). You're right that a long-term 'net shutdown would inflict major damage on the economy.

But what about short-term? Currently the Internet is the fastest and most-reliable (as long as you use your brain as a reliable filter) source of information on the planet, and a major story spreads almost instantly.

But what if there's a riot? An exchange of nukes? Any event which might shake the public's faith in a major way, or let loose hordes of armed militia? Within 60 minutes of Japan bombing Pearl Harbor Roosevelt had setup censorship of all communicaiton in the country, and signed the order to start rounding up everyone who looked vaguely Asian.

Sixty minutes is too long on the 'net, way too long to call every ISP in the country and persuade them to shut down. But if you've got a great, big "shut down Internet" switch on the wall (glowing red, of course) you don't have to ask anyone, or get those pesky court orders.

Shut everything down for 24 hours, clean up what you can of the story, then flip the switch again. Perhaps just shut off isolated portions, just ISP's who're already hosting the story. It's easier to clean up after a scandal like that ("We were just protecting the American children from dangerous information." - the most potent weapon the U.S. military/industrial complex has against free speech), than ... say ... an accidental nuclear blast, or the leaking of information about a (*cough*) missile systems test failure.

Not that they'd ever do that.
FuzzyMan45: Stupidity as a weapon of mass destruction. Great idea, but how would you weaponize it? KWillets: Television
[ Parent ]
About national agencies shutting down internationa (4.30 / 3) (#9)
by Pac on Sun Jul 16, 2000 at 06:06:54 PM EST

Allright, then the FBI get the american Congress to pass a law forcing every american ISP to install their boxes just after the routers. Now they can shut down the american Internet.

So, will the american Congress pass a law forcing the chinese ISPs to install such a box? The brazilian ISPs? The european ISPs? No, I don't think so. They are not that arrogant.

Naturally, I am not diminishing the importance and the numbers of the american slice of the Internet, but the network is going really global now. In the past, local solutions for global problems (USA:export restrictions on crypto, England: censorship on intelligence documents) have never worked. In the future they will have a zero chance of being useful.

Evolution doesn't take prisoners

Sorry about the tittle... :( (none / 0) (#11)
by Pac on Sun Jul 16, 2000 at 06:26:34 PM EST

It should read:

"About national agencies shutting down international networks"

Evolution doesn't take prisoners

[ Parent ]
Imminent death of the net predicted. (3.37 / 8) (#12)
by cesarb on Sun Jul 16, 2000 at 07:22:31 PM EST

Film at 11.

Re: Imminent death of the net predicted. (none / 0) (#28)
by climer on Mon Jul 17, 2000 at 11:05:42 PM EST

You want the proper irony.

Imminent death of the net predicted
Webcast at 11 Eastern and Pacific, 10 Central.
Visit www.<somesite>.com/msgboard to discuss this


[ Parent ]

Sniffers (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by sjmadsen on Sun Jul 16, 2000 at 09:00:30 PM EST

I'm not so sure I agree with Cringely on the sniffer point. I've had experience now with a handful of ISPs, and none of them have been so incompetent as to stick a co-lo box on a shared network. One or more switched ports are always part of the deal. Switched ports by their nature ensure that someone else's traffic doesn't leak into my network.

Cringely may be right that some ISPs don't do this, but I imagine it's probably the smaller ones, not the large, national ISPs with reputations and big customers to keep happy. The ISPs I've dealt with don't even like to disclose who is co-located at a particular facility. I can't imagine they're going to let network traffic go where it shouldn't.

Missing The Real Problem... (3.50 / 2) (#14)
by Carnage4Life on Sun Jul 16, 2000 at 09:04:48 PM EST

I can't beleive that most people's reactions to Carnivore is this preposterlous shutdown the Internet idea instead of what it is, a license for the FBI to troll for suspects.

All the linked articles describe Carnivore as constantly watching networks, so how hard would it be once they have the boxes installed to log all user requests to pro-drug sites especially with all the anti-drug legislation being passed or log all emails containing Echelon type keywords.

these fears are more realistic and more likely than the FBI shutting down the Internet, think about it.

Instead of Jam Echelon day... (4.00 / 1) (#15)
by PresJPolk on Mon Jul 17, 2000 at 10:11:07 AM EST

We need Jam Carnivore day!

pot Dasbach Browne crack meth bomb modify semi-automatic automatic gun teen sex tax write-off jaywalk litter large secret campaign donations hot stock tip privacy violations doubleclick real networks gambling blackjack odds NCAA basketball Constitution Bill of Rights federalism Jefferson blood of patriots Republic of Texas

So, can they decrypt PGP and stuff? (3.00 / 1) (#16)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jul 17, 2000 at 10:47:57 AM EST

Or are all perceived criminals dumb?
"The system is not susceptible to abuse because it requires expertise to install and operate..."
LOL, I bet in half a year you can download 1337 5cr1p7z to listen on your neighbour. What a wonderful, trustworthy foundation for security. Expertise my ass...

We need a fallback plan (none / 0) (#17)
by marlowe on Mon Jul 17, 2000 at 10:57:47 AM EST

In case they shut down the Internet to censor us, those of us who care about free speech should have something in place by which we can communicate online.

Before the Internet took off, there were BBSs. Any kid with a computer and his own phone line could set up his own rinky-dink BBS in his bedroom. Most BBSs were really lame, but it's a starting point.

And there used to be something called UUCP. It was Usenet news and email via store-and-forward. The Internet made this obsolete just like electricity made kerosene lamps obsolete. If we can't count on the Internet being there for us, maybe an ad-hoc UUCP network would be good to have handy. All we need is the telephone system and some organization.

Oh, and in case they wiretap us, best to slap on some encryption.

The catch is, if they found out your phone number, they know where you live. Run a clandestine server, and you risk getting raided. That's the risk you run if you want to stand for something. But if they sieze your computer, they've got the phone numbers of all adjacent nodes.

The idea needs some work, but I think it's worth exploring.

And there's always sneakernet.

-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --
Re: We need a fallback plan (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jul 17, 2000 at 01:15:33 PM EST

I completely agree! A recent question came up on /. How do 2 people 4 houses apart connect their houses? Right now it's not that easy - wireless doesn't necessarily have the range and laying a cable through the neighbours' back yards isn't going to be popular. But soon it will be possible. When that happens we will be in position to build an alternative infrastructure not under control of the government. It would be nice to see such an infrastructure appear soon!

[ Parent ]
Re: We need a fallback plan (5.00 / 1) (#22)
by shadowspar on Mon Jul 17, 2000 at 03:44:12 PM EST

Somewhere, a long while ago, I recall seeing that someone had started a project to create just such a network with packet radio. (Datagrams over Ham Radio setups, for those who may not have heard of it before.) Integrated encryption, etc, etc. Has the advantage that you're not tied to any one physical location; has the disadvantage that it's still pretty slow.
-- Drink Canada Dry! You might not succeed, but you'll have fun trying.
[ Parent ]

Re: We need a fallback plan (4.00 / 1) (#30)
by Tr3534 on Tue Jul 18, 2000 at 02:18:26 AM EST

Packet radio is one idea that i have been putting a lot of thought into. All of the current protocols are pretty slow, but im thinking that we just using null-modem cables hooked up to dtfm generators (in other words, the signals that telephones use for the dial pad.) There are chips available that input 4 bits and outputs the correct tone, and ones for input the tone and output four bits. simple.

Should work over shortwave, which would allow one network to run across several states, or even between several contries. Throw on ipv6 and set up some gateways, and there you go. Instant radio internet.
Sigmentation Fault: Post Dumped.
[ Parent ]
Router or sniffer? (3.00 / 1) (#18)
by Icculus on Mon Jul 17, 2000 at 11:17:03 AM EST

I don't see how they could shut down an ISP's link unless the Carnivore box was the router. Specifically, every packet leaving the ISP would have to travel through it meaning in one NIC and out another, thus making it a single choke point. I can't imagine ISPs being too thrilled with the idea of this setup, though under coersion or court order, what choice do they have.

If they're just shunting off packets to the sniffer from the ISP's router (which is far more practical), there's no way it could act as an on-off switch without some sort of backdoor.

From what I've read of the thing, it's just a sniffer, not a router. See this article on rootprompt.org detailing one fellow's experience w/ an FBI sniffer.

Other uses for Carnivore... (5.00 / 2) (#19)
by meldroc on Mon Jul 17, 2000 at 11:30:25 AM EST

Cringley and the FBI aren't (openly) being creative enough with the applications for Carnivore boxes. Given its privileged place in the ISP's network (between the routers and the rest of the Internet...) here are a couple more sophisticated uses for Carnivore.

  • Man in the Middle Attacks: If "Bad Guys" are encrypting their communications with each other, the FBI can use Carnivore to perform a Man in the Middle attack to covertly snoop and tamper with communications. Bruce Schnier is better at explaining Man in the Middle attacks than I am, go read Applied Cryptography. Just let me say this is one of the few ways that PGP encrypted communications can be compromised.
  • Selective, covert censorship It would be incredibly easy for the Carnivore system to silently drop packets the FBI has deemed contains undesirable information (the NAACP, anyone on Nixon's blacklist, "Bad Guys".) They can filter by IP address, email address, keywords, URL, etc. Most people will just sit and scratch their heads when they get 404 errors when trying to access Anmesty International or Greenpeace.

Now I can see why they want Carnivore between the ISP's servers and the rest of the Internet.

Re: Other uses for Carnivore... (none / 0) (#29)
by tetsuo on Mon Jul 17, 2000 at 11:10:48 PM EST

Bruce Schneier would probably be a lot better than me at this, too, but ...
  • Man in the Middle Attacks: If "Bad Guys" are encrypting their communications with each other, the FBI can use Carnivore to perform a Man in the Middle attack to covertly snoop and tamper with communications. Bruce Schnier is better at explaining Man in the Middle attacks than I am, go read Applied Cryptography. Just let me say this is one of the few ways that PGP encrypted communications can be compromised.
Snoop yes, tamper ... I dunno ... On p.49 of Applied Cryptography, he lists the Interlock Protocol (as described in the book here ), and several ways of going about it that would at least stop tampering, but not snooping.
The obvious statement, of course, is that people shouldn't have to resort to a cumbersome messaging protocol (each message takes 4 e-mails to finally get through), or have to go through a trusted third party, to ensure that their e-mail is not going to be read (encrypted or not).

[ Parent ]
Exactly how is a sniffer going to shut anything do (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by Alhazred on Mon Jul 17, 2000 at 11:32:02 AM EST

1st of all there is no easy way to technically put a device at every ISP between their routers and their WAN links to the net. There are several reasons for this.

1. There are a WIDE variety of interfaces to deal with. Anyone who has installed these routers knows that they are not jsut some box with 2 ethernet ports on it. The common types of configurations would be something like a DSU/CSU on one site of the router, and ethernet of some sort on the other side. Each installation would be a custom job and a major pain in the ass. Not to mention the fact that the ISP would have to have control of the FBI's box for day to day operations in that sort of configuration... IE, its impractical and unworkeable.

2. Since when does a SNIFFER have the ability to screw with anyone's routing? Sniffers per-se are just passive devices, usually they don't do any packet handling themselves outside of recording what they see on the wire, and they are not generally themselves routers. In fact there is no way you could implement such a device for every situation because routers are already 100% optimized and adding an additional task of sniffing to a lot of them is simply not possible, they don't have the spare CPU cycles, and if Cisco say COULD make such a box then they would be deploying them to use those cycles for other things. I really doubt the FBI is going to build a better box than Cisco does. Be real.

What we're left with is that the FBI could put a box on the inside of an ISP's router, say hanging off a port on a hub that the router is also on. In that configuration the best they could do would be to use the Carnivore box to launch a DOS against the ISP! This is hardly a new capability since ISP's seem extremely vulnerable to DoS already. Also as pointed out, it would be trivial for an ISP to simply shut the box down if anyone was so idiotic as to use it for that sort of purpose.

I think its MUCH more of a concern here that we would be letting the FBI have a foothold in so many places on the net that they could do all sorts of traffic analysis, crypto, and other naughty things. Not to mention just general Echelon-style spying. The only defenses here are political. Don't give them the budget to build, deploy, and manage 6000 boxes ( a LOT of money) and don't give them the authority to maintain said boxes in an operational state sans a warrant.

I think the idea of putting the box under ISP control is a great idea. The ISP can shut the box down any time its not supposed to be sniffing. The FBI will have to CALL UP THE ISP and notify them to turn the box on, and part of that notification will include the time frame of operation, after which point the box gets switched off again automatically.
That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.
Re: Exactly how is a sniffer going to shut anythin (none / 0) (#27)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jul 17, 2000 at 08:20:56 PM EST

Eventually, the link goes to Ethernet. With the right setup, the FBI could just plug in the box and walk away, no setup, no hassle. Take OpenBSD for example. Setup Ethernet bridgeing. Install your firewall and sniffer. Done. In bridgeing mode, you do not need to assign IP addresses as the kernel takes all the Ethernet traffic from one interface and broadcasts it to the other interface. This has the added effect of being totally undetectable. Add a rule to the firewall blocking all IP from x.x.x.x and you have your shutdown. All you need to do is place the OpenBSD ethernet bridge inbetween an Ethernet link and you can reactively shut that link down.

[ Parent ]
It's really simple... (4.80 / 5) (#23)
by 3than on Mon Jul 17, 2000 at 04:56:15 PM EST

The government knows exactly what the internet is. They've read a lot of the same books we have. They know that the internet allows for the end of nationalism, and radically different approaches to public life. Both of them spell disaster for an institution like the U.S. Government.
But the government is a tricky and clever thing; it knows exactly how powerful it is, and so it's trying to pull a fast one. When the internet actually became a place, the first actual cyberspace, our government had no domain there, despite creating it; and it realized quickly enough how bad that could be, maybe after reading books like Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. They realized things like this: powerful offshore encryption could allow prominent corporations to hide their books, crippling the IRS, which means no government. Criminals with good encrypted channels of communication could hide damaging evidence. They imagined organized crime with encryption, mirrorshaded cyberpunk gangsters with weapons more advanced than their own, cartels staffed with genetically enhanced, coked-up capoeira experts kicking the asses of SWAT teams while unarmed. But at first they didn't believe it.
But now they have no choice. The genome is nearly complete; there's no way they'll be able to enforce the illegality of (read: government monopoly on) genetic engineering unless they can keep close tabs on scientific startups. And consequences even more dire: there are news sites which don't toe the company line the way national and local newshows do. They talk about things like the legislations by which the government is trying to coopt the internet, and even some social issues--like the fact that crime is enforced differently across the color barrier because the government has made such a huge investment in prisons, and they need to get prisoners from somewhere, and that drug laws, as they are written and enforced, provide this prison industrial complex with as many slaves as it needs. And the fact that many, many Americans are users of marijuana, but many, many more African-American and Latino Americans go to jail for crimes related to marijuana use.
The government is terribly, terribly afraid of one thing: that its 'citizens' will realize what it is. Our government is a business, and one which is very profitable for an insanely disproportionate number of people. There are some embarassing facts about our government; its 'politicians' are actually undertalented television performers, whose writers are paid by self-interested corporations. Most embarassingly, however, is the blatant self-interest in which our government works. Its actions, touted as 'community rebuilding' or movements to 'clean up the streets,' or, most perniciously, 'family values' are in fact desperate attempts to convince us that the government is useful.
The internet has the unfortunate effect of making citizens aware of this. It also shows people what a gargantuan and outdated system our government is, and, perhaps most of all, what a weak and foolish organization it is. Think of your interactions with the government: Cut them a check for taxes. Get a ticket from a cop. Maybe if you're lucky enough to be a member of the upper strata of society, you can get a federally subsidized loan for college. Of course, the collegiate system reinforces the inherent racial + class descrimination of our society; college loans barely make education available for the middle class. The U.S. government's interest is to keep people as docile and unengaged as possible; they want people acting in politics only passively, by voting for approved, two-party candidates; They want people watching TV. Not that TV controls people's minds, but let's just say I'm not thinking as much when I'm watching tv. And I sure can't write a huge anti-gov't rant that's readable by the entire world when I'm watching Friends.
Think about it. The government can't profit from the internet as it is; it can't profit from it until it has the power to censor and control, the way it does over all broadcast media. You realize a lot of things by watching European newchannels. Like the fact that Arabs defending their homes are always called 'terrorists' on US TV while Jews who do so are, at worst, 'vigilantes.' And the fact that world news in the US is at best topical and shallow and at worst simply unavailable. It was never the job of the American media to inform; it has always been to merely to placate and entertain. The internet, worse than just informing the public, has actually given us a voice.
The U.S. government knows better than any other institution that this cannot be allowed to continue. They have to take desperate measures. They have to be able to control the internet, and if that's impossible, to destroy it. The carnivore boxes may in fact do what they are advertised to do; but that is most definitely not the function for which they were designed. No hardware is required for their alleged use--everything they are allegedly doing can already be done now. In fact, the only possible use that this box has is to circumvent proper legal procedure: the current system, in which the ISP must be contacted in order to confiscate any data, requires that the proper procedure is followed. No information will be handed over without warrant or subpoena. The carnivore box allows data seizure without warrant. In fact, as citizens, I believe that we must assume that all data running through a carnivore box is already being illegally seized because that is the only function which a box like that could serve. The FBI already has access to all the data it can legally see; the only reason why they would want such a box is for access to private information for which they would otherwise need cumbersome paperwork. Of course, there are other, more dangerous possibilities, ranging from DDOS attacks to simply shutting down the internet. I hope that none of these are true, for the sake of all involved, but I find it very, very hard to believe that these boxes are working to protect my rights, or even to protect me from dangerous criminals.
I don't know about you, but the only gun I've seen recently was carried by a policeman. Do you think it's a good idea to give the U.S. government another weapon to wield against its citizens? I don't, but unfortunately, I don't have that choice. Despite the fact that I have the power of the vote, this is the only forum in which my opinion on this matter is counted.

This is a dumb idea... (4.00 / 1) (#24)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jul 17, 2000 at 06:45:47 PM EST

...but let's assume for a moment that its a Good Thing and we *need* the FBI to monitor all packets and we can *trust* them not to do anything mean or evil. It's still a dumb idea because once these boxes are in place, you give the same capabilities to anyone who r00t5 the box by running a script. Anyone who says that such a thing would never happen might as well close their eyes and bend over.

Re: This is a dumb idea... (none / 0) (#26)
by Anonymous Hero on Mon Jul 17, 2000 at 08:14:34 PM EST

You do realize that with transparent bridgeing, there would be no way to get at the box in the first place. The FBI could record whatever the hell they wanted. To the end user, this type of sniffing is totally transparent. The script kiddies would not have a means to connect to the box as it has no IP address. Ideally, the FBI would not have a single service running. Just a logging firewall and packet sniffer. By the way, OpenBSD is capable of this type of setup right now.

[ Parent ]
How does one "shutdown the internet?" (3.00 / 1) (#25)
by Mad Matt on Mon Jul 17, 2000 at 07:25:39 PM EST

As far as I can see it, "the Internet" by which I mean the IP protocol, is already "out there". All the machines out there that talk IP (most of 'em these days) are what makes up the Internet. The most commonly used medium (telephone landlines and ISPs) might be vulnerable to government intervention, but people would just find other means.

So hypothetically:
The US government uses nasty boxes to "jam the US internet" by frizzling all the ISPs (and mightily frizzling their economy I might add). The rest of the world still has its telco/ISP infrastructure. Within hours there would be all kinds of underground (figuratively) links comming up ...

Basically to "shutdown the Internet" from a particular country's perspective means partitioning that country from the rest of the world, IP-wise. But the whole bloody point is that is very hard to do. That's the way they made IP.
:) :) :) :)

Re: How does one "shutdown the internet?" (none / 0) (#31)
by gleef on Tue Jul 18, 2000 at 03:08:25 PM EST

You forget, the internet isn't this amorpous platonic ideal IP network where everyone can connect anywhere. It's a real network with physical connections owned by real companies. A disconcerting number of those connections throughout the world are owned by American companies, such as Cable & Wireless. With a Carnivore at every ISP's router, the FBI could not only shut down most of the US Internet, but also cause substantial dead zones in the rest of the world as well.

For example, last I checked, most of the East Asian islands (eg. Japan, Taipei) & Oceania are connected via submarine cables owned by C&W. If those go down, you can't just toss a wire from one island to the next. "Other means" involves using low speed phone connections and astronomically priced satellite links, an economic disaster.

Personally, I doubt the FBI is thinking in terms of global internet stoppages, but I'd be surprised if they aren't drooling over the ability to cause selective internet stoppages.

[ Parent ]

ISP shutting down a carnivore box for DOS (none / 0) (#32)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 01:57:36 AM EST

Yes, it would be trivial for an ISP to shut it down, except for one minor problem: The FBI has armed thugs who are just begging to be allowed to kill people. ISP man moves to shut it down, and the man with the badge and brooks brothers suit sticks a glock in his face and says don't do it, what's he gonna do? The only difference between the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the 1932-1945 German Schutzstaffel (aka SS) is that the FBI has more conservative tastes in clothing.

Carnivore's Real Plans? | 32 comments (27 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
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