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Security Flaws Allow Wiretaps to be Evaded

samzenpus posted more than 8 years ago | from the it's-coming-from-inside-the-house dept.

Security 191

An anonymous reader writes "The New York Times is reporting that a team of researchers led by Matt Blaze has discovered that technology used for decades by law enforcement agents to wiretap telephones has a security flaw that allows the person being wiretapped to stop the recorder remotely. It is also possible to falsify the numbers dialed. The flaws are detailed in a paper being published by the IEEE. Someone who thinks he's being wiretapped can apparently just send a low tone down the line that turns off the recorder. The link has a demo."

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Is this is a big deal? (3, Insightful)

matr0x_x (919985) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152640)

How serious is this though - I mean, if I knew my line was tapped instead of working on getting it untapped I'd simply work on getting a second line!

Re:Is this is a big deal? (1)

andymadigan (792996) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152651)

True, however sending a low tone down the line sounds like it could become a standard part of making call that you don't want tapped. So even if you don't know if you're being tapped, you can prevent it anyway.

Re:Is this is a big deal? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14152699)

Surely if sending a low frequency tone becomes a "standard", law enforcement agencies will change their methods to so that wiretaps can't be blocked by a low tone? In fact, the aticle says that only 10% of 'dated' wiretap machines can be defeated in this manner anyway, so don't rush out to buy the next phone offering compl33t an0nym1ty from the fedz!

Where's the big deal?

except (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152778)

the FBI aren't morons.

As soon as the equipment starts getting gaps in it, they will replace it with newer equipment.
It might work once, but that ahd be the only time you give away in clues/evidence on the phone line.

Re:Is this is a big deal? (5, Insightful)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152887)

Do you want the truth?

You can't handle the truth!

" Look, our disinformation campaign is working! People who have something to hide will send the recorder activation tone down the line before each call, thinking they're keeping us from listening in. Bwhaahahaha"

The truth is that in the current environment, you can't trust anything. Use your PC to scramble the call. If its that sensitive, anything else is foolish. Or use a one-time pad to encode it.

Think of it, if you were the "powers that be", isn't this how you'd do it?

Re:Is this is a big deal? (4, Insightful)

ndansmith (582590) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152669)

Likely the powers-that-be would know about your new line and tap it as well. It is better to let them think they are tapping you, when in reality you are circumventing the system.

But sometimes... (4, Interesting)

Savage-Rabbit (308260) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152789)

... the powers-that-be add insult to injury. A few years ago German police woke up to the fact that a large portion of their wiretapping operation had gone sour. Apparently they used some sort of a digital voice-message like scheme to implement the surveillance and somebody, presumably a beancounter at one of the telecoms, decided to bill the customers in question for this 'service'.

Re:Is this is a big deal? (1)

mcc (14761) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152857)

the powers-that-be... It is better to let them think they are tapping you, when in reality you are circumventing the system.

Better hope then that the powers-that-be don't read Slashdot

Re:Is this is a big deal? (1)

jbrader (697703) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152841)

Or you could just watch your mouth on the phone.

Re:Is this is a big deal? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14153385)

I thought that criminals just used prepaid cellphones (which they bought for cash) to do all their business these days

quickest way to Cuba (5, Funny)

RY (98479) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152645)

Try it and find out...

Re:quickest way to Cuba (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14152815)

Isn't that selling the space between the bottom and the top of the large intestine?

Re:quickest way to Cuba (1)

bergeron76 (176351) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152983)

Isn't Guantanamo Base in Cuba? ... Oh wait ...

In other news... (5, Insightful)

ThatGeek (874983) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152667)

In other news, smart people can avoid being caught by doing stuff...

I mean, any dolt can PGP [pgp.com] or GnuPG [gnupg.org] encrypt a message or just hand deliver messages. Things like wiretaps are good for the duller knives in the drawer. We should still use them to "grab the low hanging fruit" and look elsewhere to capture the rest.

If a person knows he's being wire tapped, he won't say anything incriminating anyway, and if the feds/cops don't get what they want over the phone, they'll just bug some offices instead.

Re:In other news... (2, Informative)

The Snowman (116231) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152753)

Seriously, if I were planning a crime or terrorist act, you bet your ass I would encode all communication in some way -- whether it be encrypted emails or just a word code system over the phone that changes each time. This is similar to the Cold War days, when spies would leave innocent-looking messages in public places. Essentially, a non-computerized version of steganography.

Where there is a will, there is a way. Where there is a stupid or lazy criminal, there is a prison sentence.

Re:In other news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14152822)

Seriously, if I were planning a crime or terrorist act, you bet your ass I would encode all communication in some way -- whether it be encrypted emails or just a word code system over the phone that changes each time.

To take your comment one step further....I would meet in a coffee shop or McDs and talk about "our plans" there. There's always a way around the law.....

Re:In other news... (4, Funny)

ikkonoishi (674762) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152844)

Attn. Agent Snowman:The cows have jumped the moon. I repeat the cows have jumped the moon. It is too late to close the barn door.

Re:In other news... (2, Insightful)

s20451 (410424) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152957)

The corollary to your post (and the counter-argument to the grandparent) is that a person planning nefarious acts should send everything in plaintext.

Sending encrypted e-mails, for example, when nobody else in the world is doing so, is like putting a huge sign on your front lawn saying, "INTRIGUING SECRETS ARE GOING ON IN HERE!".

Remember that cryptography is only one link in the information security chain, and that everything has to get back to plaintext eventually. Once the feds are interested in your data, there is nothing stopping them from parking a truck across the street and harvesting your info using TEMPEST [wikipedia.org] .

Re:In other news... (1)

alienw (585907) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153008)

I don't even know if they need to get that high-tech. Generally, it's enough to know that suspicious person A sent a message to suspicious person B. The contents can be recovered by searching the place or just monitoring A & B's daily activities. Traffic analysis is a powerful technique.

Re:In other news... (5, Insightful)

PlayfullyClever (934896) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152909)

Or just use a pre paid cell phone.

The only groups these wiretaps hurt are the law-abiding citizens. The smart (read: dangerous) criminals have it all figured out-- Prepaid cell phones.

Pre-paid cell phones are literally disposable, one-use toys to the bad guys. You don't even need a fake ID, just cash, and not all that much at that. How can they tap your phone when you use a different phone for each call? The best they could do is tap all the pre-paid phones and listen to every conversation out there -- good luck with that! (wanna bet the NSA is big into voice recognition?)

Re:In other news... (1)

dorkygeek (898295) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153259)

But for how long will this be an option? Where I live, even pre-paid phones have to be registered, before they are activated!

Re:In other news... (1)

heypete (60671) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153537)

What prevents you from giving false information?

"Ben Franklin, 1026 Lightning Kite Way, Somewhere, Pennsylvania"

Assuming you pick a real city, a computer wouldn't know that as a fake address or not. Even your average phone-activation person probably wouldn't pick up on it.

Re:In other news... (1)

dorkygeek (898295) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153589)

What prevents you from giving false information?

You have to show up in person and bring formal proof of your identity (like a passport or identification card).

Well, that's Europe.

Re:In other news... (3, Informative)

Phil Karn (14620) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153485)

You don't understand the problem. Extremely incriminating evidence can be obtained through traffic analysis, knowing who you talk to and when, without acquiring the actual content of your communications. That's what a "pen register" is -- traffic analysis of a telephone. Encrypting your calls or your emails won't help much if, for example, they can see you're talking to known terrorists.

Re:In other news... (4, Interesting)

X (1235) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153538)

Actually, you might want to talk to a certain mafioso who used PGP to protect his communications, only to find out that the FBI didn't even need a court order to tap his keyboard. :-(

Re:In other news... (2, Insightful)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153608)

Yep. It's not as though the exploit allows the cops to think nothing's wrong. Surely, the cops will be curious when their wiretaps go:

Caller: Yo. It's me.
>CARRIER LOST

Furthermore, the FBI has insane bugging technologies. Forget wiretaps. If they really want to get you, they'll stick parabolic or laser mikes all around you. Or bug your car and office or simply follow you around and take pictures of all your friends who they then bug and wiretap. Or what they really do is catch an associate on a felony and extort^H^H^H^H^H^H convince them to turn state's witness.

So while cool, this exploit probably does not help "bad" guys too much.

Feature, not a bug... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14152674)

That way when the party officials want to do something underhanded, they use the red 'bat phone' that nukes any cops that are trying to listen in on them. In this way, they can have it both ways. Watch the proles without being watched themselves.

Re:Feature, not a bug... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14153292)

The cops may not be able to listen in, but now you're talking directly to Batman, so you're just as busted.

RTFA and all that (5, Insightful)

kebes (861706) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152678)

Let's keep this in perspective. The article says:

A spokeswoman for the F.B.I. said "we're aware of the possibility" that older wiretap systems may be foiled through the techniques described in the paper. Catherine Milhoan, the spokeswoman, said after consulting with bureau wiretap experts that the vulnerability existed in only about 10 percent of state and federal wiretaps today. (emphasis added)

So basically it is a minority of antiquated equipment that is vulnerable. Moreover, the person being wiretapped probably doesn't know what system is being used. It is not going to be possible to know, with any assurance, that you have actually defeated the system.

What this probably means is that the FBI will phase out these older systems a little faster than they intended to (mostly due to the publicity-- they were probably already aware of this vulnerability, but didn't care much because "the bad guys" were not aware of it).

Re:RTFA and all that (3, Informative)

bhsx (458600) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152754)

RTWFA... The tried to force the Calea networks to keep the C-tone timeout. Congress didn't allow the force, but most Calea networks keep it anyway. Those that keep the C-tone are vulnerable to the same exploit.
In other words: Most of the time, in current conditions, this will work.

Re:RTFA and all that (1)

fxer (84757) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152760)

Really, the FBI said that? They didn't say "this is a huge problem and we got caught with our pants down"?

Re:RTFA and all that (1)

BeesTea (580793) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152941)

"What this probably means is that the FBI will phase out these older systems a little faster than they intended to (mostly due to the publicity-- they were probably already aware of this vulnerability, but didn't care much because "the bad guys" were not aware of it)."

Sounds like a good reason to score extra funding next year. The FBI is probably glad they're publishing their findings.

Re:RTFA and all that (1)

cpu_fusion (705735) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152985)

I see nothing in that quote that goes on record to state that, even as recently as a month ago, anything less than 100% of wiretaps had these vulnerabilities.

Do you see that word "today"? (emphasis added)

URLs for the REAL papers say lots more. (4, Informative)

billstewart (78916) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153507)

The shorter HTML version [nyud.net] mainly talks about attacks on the voice eavesdropping parts, while the Longer PDF paper for IEEE [nyud.net] has even more technical detail and talks about attacks on dialed-number-recording Pen Registers and CallerID, which the Feds and Local Police are able to wiretap without the same level of court order that a voice wiretap requires. (I've done the NYUD-automatic-caching versions of the URLs, rather than the raw URL, to protect against Slashdotting.)

Basically, there's a fairly high proportion of the wiretapping gear that's actually deployed is vulnerable, in spite of what the police PR folks say, and it's much easier to hack the pen-register technology (though probably impossible to prevent the phone company from giving a direct billing database feed to the Feds, which you probably can't hack.)

Kind of like Phreaking... (0)

Tiberius_Fel (770739) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152682)

This seems to work on a similar premise to how phone "phreaking" worked. (Of course, you can read about Phreaking here [wikipedia.org] .

Is this like a default password... (4, Interesting)

PurifyYourMind (776223) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152684)

...on a router/etc.? Like a programmer's backdoor that they forgot to shut off after they sold the units? I guess it's security through obscurity... relying on the subject not knowing they're even being tapped, and thus having no reason to try to stop the tap.

Off-Hook detectors and DTMF variability (3, Interesting)

billstewart (78916) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153441)

It's not a backdoor, it's a design feature that's being phreaked. Analog Wiretaps can't use the phone switch standard signalling method to detect whether a phone's on-hook or off-hook, because they're patched around the switch, so the equipment transmits a tone whenever the phone's on-hook to tell the recorder not to bother recording. And because it's running on phone-quality wire, it's an in-band tone, usually one of the extra four Touch-Tone tones, which means that the phone's user can send the tone themselves to tell the wiretapper's recorder that they're not there. The recorder _could_ have been built to do voice detection, but it's an old design and this is a cheaper and dumber way to implement it.

But wiretappers don't just record voice, they record dialed numbers and caller-id. The other set of flaws, which you can read about in the longer PDF paper, depend on the fact that DTMF detectors are usually analog devices with a certain amount of sensitivity, and in general the phone switch and the wiretapper's equipment won't be the same. So you can find out how far off to bend your touchtones and have the phone switch still listen to you, and then you can send touchtones in-spec or out-of-spec to confuse the wiretapper's equipment, which can't tell whether the phone switch is or is not listening to the numbers you can dial. If it's more sensitive than the phone switch, you can send bogus digits that the wiretapper will record and the phone switch will ignore - but if it's less sensitive, and you're sending your digits just at the edge of the phone switch's range, the wiretapper won't see them.

You can play similar games with CallerID, giving the wiretapper lots of entertaining stuff to listen to when you're not on the phone.

In other news... (4, Insightful)

Psionicist (561330) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152688)

In other news: A team of researchers belived to be linked to an unknown group of terrorists was charged under the DMCA and PATRIOT act as a threat to national security. They are now being held for an unknown period if time, awaiting trial...

Re:In other news... (0)

forkazoo (138186) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152824)

we give them trials now? good to know things are improving.

Re:In other news... (0)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152946)

Well, sure, we now have trials. But that's why we have them so long. We have to get the right jury.

We like juries that are partial to suspended sentences - you know, suspended from the nearest tree, suspended from the neck up, that sort of stuff.

But its been hard lately, as even the KKK no longer sees it as their patriotic duty to volunteer people for these special jury duties. Too many of their members come back as damn liberals! Dissing "the system". Complaining about "human rights". Calling our glorious Commander-in-Chief "Mr Chimps, the fucktard"! We can't have that. He might be a fucktard, but he's OUR fucktard! That's why we work so hard to putting the US in jUStice. Because if we do it, it IS the right thing to do. Rmember that, citizen!

Let me get this straight... (5, Funny)

dada21 (163177) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152691)



High frequency tones turn off teenagers.

Low frequency tones turn of the NSA.

Slashdotter vocal tones turn off women.

Did I miss anything?

Re:Let me get this straight... (0)

DrEldarion (114072) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152728)

Tommy Tutone is turned on by Jenny.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1, Funny)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152735)

New sign at the NSA: Now Hiring Teens!

Re:Let me get this straight... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14152982)

Subsonic tones kill chickens. From the Turbo C online help for sound()
True story: 7 Hz is the resonant frequency of a chicken's skull cavity. This was determined empirically in Australia, where a new factory generating 7-Hz tones was located too close to a chicken ranch: When the factory started up, all the chickens died.

Your PC may not be able to emit a 7-Hz tone.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

AmberBlackCat (829689) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153011)

And the "start" button turns off your computer.

Re:Let me get this straight... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14153278)

Very high frequency singing turns on female rats.

Bad news for voice over IP (2, Funny)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152692)

The FBI is going to want voIP providers to duplicate this remote recorder stopping flaw so that it works just like the POTS network that they're used to tapping!

Signalling device? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14152697)

In the vein of other consipracy theorists...

What if the low-tone just flags the FBI to your line?

Would you rely on this? (1)

David Hume (200499) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152707)

A spokeswoman for the F.B.I. said "we're aware of the possibility" that older wiretap systems may be foiled through the techniques described in the paper. Catherine Milhoan, the spokeswoman, said after consulting with bureau wiretap experts that the vulnerability existed in only about 10 percent of state and federal wiretaps today.
Would you rely on this? Particularly given the probability that, if it is a FBI wiretap, it is only going to work one time out of ten?
There is some indirect evidence that criminals might already know about the vulnerabilities in the systems, Mr. Blaze said, because of "unexplained gaps" in some wiretap records presented in trials.
Of course, if you play a long-shot you sometimes win.

Better question: (1)

barc0001 (173002) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152866)

Would you rely on a spokesperson to tell you how much of their equipment is affected by a potentially devastating flaw? Remember what Sony said about the rootkit..

Flipped bits (was Re:Would you rely on this?) (1)

quarkscat (697644) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153434)

Exactly so.

Between NSA, the FBI, and various unnamed DoD agencies are now considerably overworked monitoring their (subjugated) citizens. Merely changing the logic on their surveillance equipment to specifically monitor POTS communications with the low amplitude low octave "C" being broadcast (to shut off their bugs) would certainly free up some manpower and equipment to focus on the "professional" terrorists using voice encryption or other high tech methods. Only "newbie" suicide bomber wannabes would make use of such insecure methods of communications.

If this story was not explicitly a planted news item to spread disinformation, it would surprise me. This has to be a plot lifted directly out of MAD Magazine's "Spy vs Spy" segment.

Wanna get rid of a wiretap on your phone? (5, Funny)

kcbrown (7426) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152713)

Seems to me there's a, um, more permanent solution:

  1. connect disposable phone to phone line
  2. call some unimportant number
  3. connect 50,000 volt source to the phone line
  4. ZAAAAAP!!!!
  5. Watch feds exit the van across the street. You know, the one with the smoke billowing out of it.

Oh, yeah, guess I forgot a step: flee the country, because they'll be after your ass now!

Re:Wanna get rid of a wiretap on your phone? (1)

Dragoonmac (929292) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152799)

Too bad the blotto box will only blow out fuses, now if you could find a way to bypass those...

Re:Wanna get rid of a wiretap on your phone? (3, Funny)

mOdQuArK! (87332) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152835)

Just need more voltage to arc across the blown fuse terminals, right?

Why yes, I do enjoy playing with Tesla coils. Why do you ask?

Re:Wanna get rid of a wiretap on your phone? (2, Funny)

Mattintosh (758112) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152856)

Sounds like a good time to test out those new BOFH-Brand(tm) "fuses" found in the nail aisle of your local hardware store.

Re:Wanna get rid of a wiretap on your phone? (1)

sharkey (16670) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152888)

Watch feds exit the van across the street.

You mean the delivery van from Flowers By Irene?

Emmanuel at 2600 is gonna love this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14152722)

Who said phone phreaking is dead?

I, for one, welcome security flaws (5, Interesting)

PlayfullyClever (934896) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152730)

Remember that we're all presumed innocent. To take an example of encryption, just because I'm using encryption does not mean that I am plotting nefarious schemes against my fellow citizens. I may be discussing confidential business things, for example. Y'know, dare I say it, I might actually work from home in an effort to not drive my car around and burn gas, hurt the environment, etc., etc.

These sorts of mistakes can be dangerous. Imagine the above example--I'm some bigshot business-guy. I own a publicly traded company. The FBI inadvertently taps my phone and learns that someone at the company I work for has just invented something that will make the company a ton of money. Do you really think those agents aren't going to call up their stock-brokers and say, "BUY! BUY! BUY!" (Or, assume the other direction, if you prefer)

Frankly, yes. I want to make it difficult for the government to wiretap it's citizens. I want somebody to look at the evidence that has been accumulated and act as my representative to say, "Hey, wait. Just because he encrypts his phone calls doesn't mean he's a terrorist." I want somebody to second-guess these guys.

The story of the gutsy cop who goes against procedure to nab the bad guys before they enact their evil deeds is a great movie. But it's not real life--remember, in most cases we get the see the bad guys planning their acts in the movies so we know who the bad guy is. Reality is not that cut-and-dried.

In short, I'm more worried about the government abusing it's power than of the terrorists blowing up a building. That happens alot more often.

Re:I, for one, welcome security flaws (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14152845)

I want somebody to look at the evidence that has been accumulated and act as my representative to say, "Hey, wait. Just because he encrypts his phone calls doesn't mean he's a terrorist." I want somebody to second-guess these guys.

That's why "these guys" need to go before a judge to get a warrant to obtain a wiretap. What, you think that's just for fun?

Re:I, for one, welcome security flaws (1)

PlayfullyClever (934896) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152871)

I meant that there is an assumption when one uses encryption that it must be because there is "something to hide." I know they need to get a warrant but it doesn't change the fact that the fact I use encryption might be used to infer my guilt.

Re:I, for one, welcome security flaws (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14153113)

"Need to get a warrant" - HA! That's so 1990!

Re:I, for one, welcome security flaws (3, Informative)

Cecil (37810) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153078)

The FBI inadvertently taps my phone and learns that someone at the company I work for has just invented something that will make the company a ton of money. Do you really think those agents aren't going to call up their stock-brokers and say, "BUY! BUY! BUY!"

Listen, I hate the concept of a police state and wiretapping as much as the next guy, but this is a dumb defense. The SEC investigates transactions like that for a reason. "Gee, these two FBI agents who've never bothered to invest more than $10,000 in any single company, suddenly bought $400,000 worth of shares of this company at the perfect time and made $15,000,000. They might've been ridiculously lucky. Or more likely they might've had insider information. Let's look a little closer, shall we?"

The stock market is like the world's biggest casino, and the SEC is certainly no less watchful and no less hesitant to break your legs if you try to cheat them.

Re:I, for one, welcome security flaws (1)

geobeck (924637) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153109)

Remember that we're all presumed innocent [until proven guilty].

Not anymore, you're not. Since "Homeland Security" entered the landscape, you're presumed a terrorist until Bush leaves office.

Don't use in-band signalling/control (2, Insightful)

AcidPenguin9873 (911493) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152746)

Engineers figured this out a long time ago. TFA says it's only 10% of current systems anyway.

I wonder if .... (5, Interesting)

jesusfingchrist (853886) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152752)

The OP has anything to do with this :

http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2001/12/1 8/224826.shtml [newsmax.com]

U.S. Police and Intelligence Hit by Spy Network

        Charles R. Smith
        Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2001

Spies Tap Police and Government Phones

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, the FBI has stumbled on the largest espionage ring ever discovered inside the United States. The U.S. Justice Department is now holding nearly 100 Israeli citizens with direct ties to foreign military, criminal and intelligence services.

The spy ring reportedly includes employees of two Israeli-owned companies that currently perform almost all the official wiretaps for U.S. local, state and federal law enforcement.

The U.S. law enforcement wiretaps, authorized by the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), appear to have been breached by organized crime units working inside Israel and the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad.

Both Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller were warned on Oct. 18 in a hand-delivered letter from local, state and federal law enforcement officials. The warning stated, "Law enforcement's current electronic surveillance capabilities are less effective today than they were at the time CALEA was enacted."

It's a trap! (4, Funny)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152756)

  1. Make up fake story about how to disable phone tapping via special tone
  2. Get story published on Slashdot (etc)
  3. If the people you are wiretapping start sending the tone, you now know they suspect they are being monitored
  4. Better yet, having used the tone, they now think they can talk freely
  5. gather evidence!

Re:It's a trap! (1)

Jon Abbott (723) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153254)

First, the aluminum foil helmet study folks tell us we can't wear our helmets anymore, and now this news comes out as a trap... I think we're being followed!

You forgot: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14153409)

6. ???
7. Profit!

Double-edged sword (3, Insightful)

jemenake (595948) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152758)

Someone who thinks he's being wiretapped can apparently just send a low tone down the line that turns off the recorder
Of course nobody would actually play that tone over the phone unless they were trying to foil wiretaps, right? How long do you think it'll be before the feds try to ammend the Patriot Act to allow them to listen just for that tone even on lines that they don't have a wiretap warrant for? Imagine picking up any phone in the U.S., playing the tone into it, and immediately getting your conversation recorded.... simply by virtue that you've already demonstrated your "guilty mind".

I feel safer already....

Re:Double-edged sword (2, Insightful)

PlusFiveTroll (754249) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152818)

Actually that sounds like a good idea, now the feds will have 30,000 hours of geeks talking about upgrading linux on there new athlon. The .gov will spend millions trying to go through all the tapes, most calls will never be listened to. All of the sudden the 'real' terrorist they should have been listening to in the first place will blow something up.

Moral of the story, dont waste your time with a person just because they want a little privacy.

Re:Double-edged sword (2, Funny)

fatmal (920123) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152867)

Of course nobody would actually play that tone over the phone

What if Barry White makes a call - does that count as a low tone?

Why should I be worried about a wiretap? (1)

complete loony (663508) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152769)

I've got nothing to hide.
ccccccccc [click]

i'm too newschool for tinfoil (1)

evilmousse (798341) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152782)


see, i've always thought the holy grail of righteous anonymity was some black magic combination of phreaking, hacking, and maybe something to do with ham radio; never thought a tinfoil hat was the way to go. ^_-

Re:i'm too newschool for tinfoil (1)

zoloto (586738) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153225)

ssssh, don't give them any suggestions!

Limited Value (3, Insightful)

digitalchinky (650880) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152810)

*Ahem* From the 'wire tapping' I know of it's all man in the middle, digitised, and stored on hard disk - with the cooperation of the telecoms or without. I haven't seen a 'tape recorder' in a good 10 years now. Still have them, just not needed any longer. I should imagine, given the hardware used in Australia, that US police would do a similar thing and if not - identical. The likelyhood these days of a machine that could be switched off remotely I would suggest is improbable at best.

They did use "publicly available information" - what is made (or leaked to the) public is often years out of date, inaccurate, or simply not even true - rarely does it describe the technology in actual use, so don't go and loosen the straps on the tin foil just yet :-)

Are you serious ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14153269)

Are you serious ? How many cops in the U.S. have you met ? Most I've met can turn on their car, most of the time. Anything more difficult and a look comes over their face like you caught them in the middle of a bowel movement after 2 large bean burritos. They do not have the best tech gear in the world either, have you read about the problems the FBI had upgrading their computer systems the last 10 years ? The local cops are much worse. The state police can handle a radar gun, and not much else, they never get off the highway, except to try to find a piece of ass for a Governor like Clinton. Do you know anyone who has become a police officer ? I know a few, none of them were even in the top half of the gene pool. They are lucky, the one and only demographic that is even less bright than a police officer is a common criminal, and they only get them about half the time in the U.S.

Yeah, right... (5, Funny)

garyok (218493) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152846)

Is this some sort of darwinian IQ test for terrorists? You can just imagine the gleeful delight on their simple, child-like faces and the unrestrained joy they will experience with unfettered access to telecommunicaions this will allow.

[low hum down a phone line]

"Hello. Is that you Omar?"

"Why, yes it is Osama. How are you today? And what's the weather like like in your donkey burrow in Yemen? The weather's great here in Florida. My view from the Delano Hotel's room window is fabulous - I am also ordering martinis like James Bond."

"Yes, yes... quit your bragging. Just because you weren't born with the most recognisable stripey beard in the world... Now can we please start planning our next atrocity?"

"Ah yes. It is pleasing that we can freely discuss our locations and plans now that the engineers of the American military-industrial complex have told us how to easily counteract their most sophisticated surveillance. Their foolishness in revealing this technique to the entire world, via the internet, has allowed us to dispense with our counter-surveillance training, techniques, and equipment. It is truly a golden age for violent reactionaries wishing to impose a totalitarian pseudotheocracy on the idol-worshipping, hemp-smoking, fornicating, soulless infidels!"

"Wait! Who THE FUCK did you say told you this would work?!"

"Yes, the Americans. They said we'd be safe if we did this. How typically naive of them. Their destruction is assured!"

Re:Yeah, right... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14153340)

When you enter America, as a terrorist you already passed a very difficult IQ test.
You have to fill in a form and one of the questions you have to answer is:

Are you a terrorist? (yes/no)

Needless to say, answering this question saves a lot of work for Customs...

You just think your safe... (1)

Psithe (891219) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152878)

This is just so the criminals will think they are safe after turning off the recorder... Since the one in use probably isn't affected.

Re:You just think your safe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14152951)

your

can you please learn english k thx

finally (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14152891)

I think i should share the secret to eternal happiness with all. Go to the .. CCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCC CCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCC .. ok gotta go.

ThinkGeek (2, Funny)

Leroy_Brown242 (683141) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152895)

So, how long until http://www.thinkgeek.com [thinkgeek.com] has phones that do this automaticly? :)

Asterisk (1)

r00t (33219) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153070)

I think you can do this with Asterisk PBX config files, using the desired tone as background music.

Anybody have code for it?

The trouble is being able to start the tone at the desired time. One would rather not need to be seated at the console I think. I guess you could swipe DTMF, but that has problems.

Re:Asterisk (1)

Leroy_Brown242 (683141) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153378)

" I think you can do this with Asterisk PBX config files, using the desired tone as background music."

Oh, good call.


"The trouble is being able to start the tone at the desired time."

Nothing some silence at the beggining of the MP3 or whatever couldn't fix. But does it really need to start at the right time? Isn't the presence of the tone enough?

Dial tone music? (1)

sanermind (512885) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152929)

Anyone else notice that the number dialed sounds awfully like a touch-tone rendition of "That's Amore", as in "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, That's amore"? Some sort of subtly humourous mobster reference, perhaps?

quick fix (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14152932)

just have everyone start phone conversations with "president bomb alquada" and /. the wire taps, they can't record, or at least filter everything.

Parabolic microphones, bypass legal limits? (1)

mark_osmd (812581) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152939)

I'd think if the FBI wanted to get evidence on a suspected crook or terrorist, they'd just park a guy across the street with a parabolic mic or two. Since there's no physical tapping of the house or any wires involved I'd guess there's no need for a court order even? All the mic is doing is sniffing sounds in public, legally like the way popparatzi (sp?) avoid legal problems photographing stars in public. Also because of the illusion of privacy the suspect would tend to talk more freely avoiding the fact that criminals tend to not talk freely on possibly tapped lines.

I believe this was designed for specific use (1)

WillRobinson (159226) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152944)

I bet the politicans were the first to know about this "feature".
GWB: You know this Sadam guy is pretty bad dude, I think we need to, wait just a second BZZZZZ ...

Re:I believe this was designed for specific use (1)

skratchpad (824430) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153021)

So you think that George W. Bush, alien invader [slashdot.org] , is smart enough to create and send the specific tone required to utilize this exploit?

Or, if you figure someone gave him a button that does it, you actually think he's smart enough to push a button?

You, sir, yes you. I have a bridge for sale....

The only reason they are releasing this... (1)

mattyohe (517995) | more than 8 years ago | (#14152949)

is so they can let people know their HILARIOUS counterfeit mattresses joke [crypto.com] .

In-band signaling (1)

Crouty (912387) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153044)

If you think in-band signaling is a smart idea I have a statue in NYC to sell to you.

Am I the only one who thinks of Cap'n Crunch [wikipedia.org] ?

How to submit a story to Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14153045)

1. Go to boingboing.net
2. Copy the link to a 2-day old article
3. Submit to slashdot (with referrer link in your username URL)
4. Profit!

Crap! (1)

Graham1982 (933841) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153054)

Now almost everyone knows this flaw, the FBI knows that everyone else knows, thus they will fix the bug. Way to go guys, I was thwarting them for years until just now!

Anyway, I wonder if they really will change/augment the current equipment now that this information is public knowlegde. Then again, one would have to suspect or know that they are being wiretapped to implement countermeasures anyway. Is any VOIP being successfully tapped, and what methods are being used? What forms of communication are the most difficult to eavesdrop upon? Just some interesting questions for you to ponder on.

demo link (3, Funny)

BushCheney08 (917605) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153174)

The link has a demo.

Hey, it works! I tried the demo and a few minutes later the big black van parked out front drove away...

Overturn convictions? (1)

spazoid12 (525450) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153182)

It is also possible to falsify the numbers dialed.

I wonder how many defense lawyers are curious about that bit.

The low tone... (1)

Woy (606550) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153265)

probably turns on the recorder.

heh, that's why I talk in code (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14153301)

I just use this simple code:

"bomb" = "orange"

"airplane" = "comfy chair"

"hijack" = "order sausage"

"jihad" = "balanced diet"

"suicide bomber" = "that kid with the funny teeth"

"terror attack" = "breakfast at Denny's"

"Mohammed" = "Steve"

"Osama" = "Mom"

"Praise Allah" = "Don't forget to write"

For instance, I might want to send along the following message:

"Hey Steve! Mom says, don't miss breakfast at Denny's THIS TUESDAY AT 10AM. As part of your balanced diet, you need to order sausage from the comfy chair. Don't forget the big juicy orange. Give it to the kid with the funny teeth. You'll know him when you see him. Don't forget to write!"

Heh. If the goons ever found out, I'm in deep shit.

D'oh.

Re: Security Flaws Allow Wiretaps to be Evaded (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14153367)

"The good news is that most bad guys are not clever and not determined. We used to call it criminal Darwinism."
Except in Kansas.

Oh please (-1, Redundant)

Liam Slider (908600) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153450)

There are a lot easier ways to get around government spooks. Prepaid cellphones for example. They can be bought very cheaply these days, with cash, can be activated without giving your name, address, or phone number, and the minutes can also be purchased with cash and activated anonymously. With nothing to tie any particular identity to any particular cellphone, it makes it hard to know who to listen in on. If it is tapped...easy to just cancel the phone, let it die and register all over, toss it and get a replacement, whatever...

SS7 (1)

horacerumpole (877156) | more than 8 years ago | (#14153480)

While the paper seems to come from a serious source, as far as I'm familiar with this kind of equipment (I worked for Comverse (CMVT) [google.com] , which builds these wiretapping boxes) the simple solution is called SS7 [google.com] (Signaling System number 7). It's an out-of-band signaling system that provisions and "tears down" calls on a separate network from the voice cables and therefore cannot be messed with over the line, no matter what you send on it.

I start to believe from this article that the affected systems (the FBI says only 10% are affected) are just too old and have never been upgraded to use SS7.

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