So, I finally found the time to read up on the spyware that was created and deployed by the German government. On the one hand, it’s surprising. On the other hand, not so much.
Much of the controversy not only stems from the fact that it’s the government spying on its citizens, but on the fact that it’s the German government doing so. One cannot escape that the surreptitious deployment and installation of spyware, designed to collect information on private citizens, is something that a totalitarian government would do: Germany doesn’t have enough of a distance from its past to look at such instances in their own backyard and sigh out a collective “meh.”
I mean, this is the country that is so clouded by its past that it took about 60 years and the World Cup for its people to fly their flags with pride. So, the fact that this is happening in Germany is kind of surprising. On the other hand, what country doesn’t spy on its citizens?
Easy to Remove
Another surprising thing: According to the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) — which blew wide open the story on the spyware, dubbed Bundestrojan by some — the program is very easy to block and remove from infected computers. I totally buy into that “German efficiency” and “German work ethic” and other fine qualities (thank you, German car ads, for brainwashing me), so finding that the spyware is quite easily defeated comes as a surprise:
[The software always uses] the same encryption key,” said Felix Leder, a German security architect in the Malware Detection Team at Norman, a Norwegian computer security firm.
“Since some of the bytes are always the same, you can detect them and then you can detect that you have Bundestrojan traffic on your network. We are seeing similar mistakes made in spyware. Normally they forget simple stuff.” [dw-world.de]
The same encryption key, eh? That’s something you won’t find in our AlertBoot encryption MSP solution for protecting computer disk drives. For one thing, if your encryption key falls into the wrong hands, any computer using that key (assuming there’s more than one computer) would be vulnerable to data theft if the laptop is stolen.
Is It Surprising at Its Core, Though?
There are little surprises here and there, and the entire thing is scandalous, of course, but I think the “news” that the German government was utilizing spyware is…not really news, and hence not a surprise.
In July of last year, I had suggested the use of spyware:
If I recollect correctly, the German government has been having a heck of a time trying to eavesdrop on Skype calls. I seem to recall that they announced that they were successful in tapping those calls, but it sounded as if they had to use a specially-designed Trojan, essentially exploiting the fact that Skype’s encrypted calls must decrypt at some point for people to hear each other.
It was the only logical explanation when you consider how Skype works, and I think pretty much anyone interested in security came to the same conclusion.
I guess the big controversy is whether the trojan was used in an illegal manner. But, for now, the focus in the media seems to lie on the fact that the German government is using it at all. However, I see people’s eyes turning to the real issue. I guess we’ll have to keep our eyes peeled to see what developments arise.
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