SEATTLE (CN) – The FBI used a fake Seattle Times article and Internet link to infect a high school bomb-threat suspect’s computer with spyware, an ACLU technologist said Monday.
Documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation show the FBI made up a news story about the threats, used an AP byline and emailed a link “in the style of the Seattle Times” to the suspect’s MySpace account. When he clicked on the link, agents were able to track his IP address.
The Seattle Times appeared unaware of the ruse, and editor Kathy Best said she was “outraged.”
“We, like you, just learned of this and are seeking answers ourselves from the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office,” Best said in a statement.
“But we are outraged that the FBI misappropriated the name of The Seattle Times to secretly install spyware on the computer of a crime suspect. Not only does that cross the line, it erases it.
“Our reputation – and our ability to do our job as a government watchdog – is based on trust. And nothing is more fundamental to that trust than our independence from law enforcement, from government, from corporations and from all other special interests. The FBI’s actions, taken without our knowledge, traded on our reputation and put it at peril,” Best said.
The EFF, a San Francisco-based digital rights group, recently posted documents on the FBI’s use of Computer & Internet Protocol Address Verifier, or CIPAV, technology. The documents contain an email exchange between two FBI agents discussing the bogus link containing a CIPAV.
One email allegedly stated: “… below is the news article we would like to send containing the CIPAV. I am meeting with the judge at 1:30PST and hope to deploy afterwards. Thanks”
The FBI arrested the 15-year-old suspect in 2007 for making a series of bomb threats at Lacy’s Timberline High School, near Olympia.
The ACLU’s Christopher Soghoian revealed the FBI’s impersonation of the press Monday on Twitter after analyzing the documents.
“That the FBI impersonated a newspaper’s website to deliver malware to a target is outrageous. Over the top Crazy,” Soghoian tweeted.
FBI Agent Frank Montoya Jr. said in a statement that the spyware technique was used to prevent a “possible act of violence in a school setting.”
“Use of that type of technique happens in very rare circumstances and only when there is sufficient reason to believe it could be successful in resolving a threat,” he said.
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