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US Fears Loss of ICQ Honeypot 319

Posted by kdawson
from the call-your-mother-but-don't-say-qaeda dept.
AHuxley writes "US law enforcement bodies view the sale of instant messaging service ICQ to a Russian company as a threat to homeland security. In spring 2010, Russia's largest Internet investment company, Digital Sky Technologies, agreed to purchase the service for $187 million from AOL. The US is sure that most criminals use ICQ and, therefore, constant access to the ICQ servers is needed to track them down. As the system is based in Israel, American security service have had access. The article concludes, 'Lawyers [of unspecified nationality] say that to block the deal the US Committee on Foreign Investment needed to cancel it no later than within 30 days after the deal has been announced — so unless the rules are broken, nothing can be changed.'"
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US Fears Loss of ICQ Honeypot

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    But it's the compuserve psychos you have to watch out for.

    • by Lord Byron II (671689) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @12:13AM (#32707102)

      Seriously, where did they get this claim:

      "The US said it is sure that most criminals use ICQ"

      Who actually said that? The article claims "US law enforcement bodies", but doesn't say which ones. It doesn't even say if they are federal, state, local, or private law enforcement bodies.

      "Most" criminals is probably too broad. Maybe they meant terrorists. Maybe they meant spies. Who knows? But I doubt that every drug dealer and pimp out there is using ICQ.

      And why would criminals all congregate to the same service? There are lots of great ways to disseminate information (text messages, email, phone calls, etc). Why would criminals use only one particular version (ICQ) of a particular method (IM)?

      • by Z00L00K (682162) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @12:36AM (#32707190) Homepage

        And why wouldn't they develop their own protocols for communication?

        I can think of various ways to communicate, most of them rather narrow-banded but still useful for key information.

        If you are into big time crime you can even get news media to communicate for you, but that means that you must have exchanged some protocol first. Let's say that you agree that news reported in a certain newspaper online can contain some key information - like where a bank heist shall occur. You can then communicate a lot of information through other channels to coordinate the "when" and "how". Then just cause some other happening - like a large fire that will be reported in the news in the area where you shall pull it off.

        And even in computer communication you can get around direct tracking, like posting on Slashdot or ping some servers with an incorrect sender address that will cause the ping reply to end up at your expected target system.

        • by icebike (68054) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @12:42AM (#32707220)

          Actually developing their own probably calls more attention to themselves than just using something where they can hide in the herd.

          But ICQ seems an odd choice. Usership is dwindling, twitter and facebook and any number of other im services are eating its lunch.

          One wonders who these "criminals" are that use ICQ.

          The whole thing sounds fishy to me.

          • by phoenix321 (734987) * on Sunday June 27, 2010 @03:03AM (#32707650)

            ICQ has millions of users in the former eastern bloc. ICQ is for Russia and most of its Slavic neighbors pretty much the same as QQ is for China and their neighbors.

            People with these ethnic backgrounds living abroad have usually the same preference for their IM networks, of course, to reach the rest of the family back home. Now no one would ever dare to suggest that emigrants from the Eastern Bloc - those that use ICQ - have a high involvement in crime, but I'm sure there's some people who have more than a hunch on that. I wonder where all these new AK47s used in street crime from Belgium to California come from anyway...

      • by ericlondaits (32714) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @12:40AM (#32707212) Homepage

        By now they probably posted the link to this article in the criminal forum and are organizing a mass migration to MSN Messenger, GTalk and Facebook.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Runaway1956 (1322357)

        ""The US said it is sure that most criminals (insert who use ICQ) use ICQ"

        There. The sentence still doesn't make a lot sense, but I've fixed it as well as I know how. And, I agree that "most criminals" certainly don't use ICQ. Half the criminals that I know aren't even SMART enough to use ICQ without an IT guy to hold their freaking hands.

        Yeah, someone is going to point out that some very intelligent people happen to be criminals - but I'll just remind them that a lot of people become criminals because t

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anachragnome (1008495)

        ""The US said it is sure that most criminals use ICQ""

        They know this because ICQ is really the main communication system of the CIA. It was all the NSA would let them play with.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Securityemo (1407943)
        No, it's a known fact in information security circles that a lot of criminal stuff goes down, or at least has gone down, over ICQ. Why beats me, maybe it just got widely popular in Russia? It sounds stupid, but consider that until recently, most large-scale botnets where controlled via IRC channels.
  • by Brett Buck (811747) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @09:59PM (#32706536)

    Nothing can be done?! Nonsense. The National Security Act could be used to simply seize the entire operation, if it's that important.

    • by Kitkoan (1719118)
      I don't think it's that simple since it's a now approved deal between 2 business's that aren't government based/ties with the government. Its a chat program used by many different people and only a small percentage is using it for illegal means, and this doesn't make it a true national security issue.
    • by DigiShaman (671371) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @10:24PM (#32706646) Homepage

      And why should they seize it? Last I heard, ICQ was a private company selling to another private company. Do we *really* want the Feds seizing private property / assets (corporate or otherwise) under the guise of national security? Not only does that set a dangerous precedent, it dilutes the true mention of national security. A power-grab if I ever saw one.

      The Feds should only be seizing weapons with premeditation that would constitute a clear and present danger. ICQ is not that.

      • This is hardly a unique situation and it has been done before. Of course, the value of it in this case is dubious, but it's perfectly legal and has been for a very long time.

        • by DigiShaman (671371) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @10:39PM (#32706724) Homepage

          If it's "perfectly legal", than I'm quite disturbed. I mean, screw what the Russians think. I'm more afraid of my own government. I'm sure they feel the same way about us.

          I'm all about protecting national security, but not to the level where it becomes more (if at all) authoritarian.

        • by camperdave (969942) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @11:52PM (#32707000) Journal
          Perfectly legal for the US to intervene in a sale from an Israeli company to a Russian one? If that's truly the case, the US has far, far too much power.
    • Except the government wouldn't risk seizing it and outing their agenda......what was the quote from the Exorcist when the Devil wouldn't move the object - "that's far too overt a display of power"?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AnAdventurer (1548515)
      How exactly will the US (ie, my country) block the sale of one company based in Israel to another company based in Russia? On what grounds do we [sic] have the authority to do this?
    • by rolfwind (528248)

      Ever heard of a "limited government"?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by unity (1740)
        "limited government" you say? That notion died in 1913 and it ain't ever coming back without a full-on revolution.
        • by aztektum (170569)

          Oh it died well before that. The notion that the government ever really minded its own business has always been a fairy tale. It has stuck its fingers in our pies from the start [wikipedia.org].

  • Two words: (Score:5, Funny)

    by bl4nk (607569) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @09:59PM (#32706544)
    Uh-oh!
  • ICQ is AIM (Score:5, Informative)

    by joe_bruin (266648) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @10:00PM (#32706546) Homepage Journal

    As the system is based in Israel, American security service have had access.

    While ICQ was founded in Israel, it's been owned by AOL for over a decade. The ICQ network has been integrated with AOL's AIM network many years ago and the servers are located in AOL's network supercenter in Virginia.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LostCluster (625375) *

      I think the fear is that link bay be broken up by this sale.

      Anybody who was watching MSNBC's Countdown around 2008-2009 know that there's a highly controlled rooms at AT&T where nearly all long distance telephone traffic flow through and while curious AT&Ters are not allowed, government agents are.

      This is the spy community saying "If ICQ moves to Russia, we might not be able to tap it anymore!"

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by negRo_slim (636783)

        Anybody who was watching MSNBC's Countdown around 2008-2009 know that there's a highly controlled rooms at AT&T where nearly all long distance telephone traffic flow through and while curious AT&Ters are not allowed, government agents are.

        Anybody who's been reading the Telecom Informer in 2600 [2600.com] for years now has been aware of the scope of the governments monitoring capabilities in that sector. And I'm sure they're not the only source but I'll be damned if I let you attribute that information to an MSNBC program.

        lol.

    • Re:ICQ is AIM (Score:4, Informative)

      by Kitkoan (1719118) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @10:43PM (#32706746)

      As the system is based in Israel, American security service have had access.

      While ICQ was founded in Israel, it's been owned by AOL for over a decade. The ICQ network has been integrated with AOL's AIM network many years ago and the servers are located in AOL's network supercenter in Virginia.

      ICQ's networks haven't been integrated with AOL servers, they are still in Tel Aviv, Israel [linkedin.com]. They are a subsidiary of AOL, but not merged or located in the US. [businessweek.com] They are 2 different IM programs that were kept separated to appear as if there is competition, this is why you can download both an AIM chat program and a ICQ chat program and the user names are not cross-compatible.

      • by Trepidity (597)

        The networks were linked, and user names were made cross-compatible [cnet.com] in 2002. If you login to AIM, and send a message to a "username" consisting of an ICQ number, it will be delivered.

  • by masdog (794316)
    Do people still use ICQ? I thought it was a dying technology in 2000 when I first signed up for it as it was being supplanted by AIM, Yahoo, and MSN (which have been supplanted in many ways by Facebook).
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Why would it be "a dying technology"? Just because it's old?
      I've never had any problems with ICQ, but the same can't be said about MSN. If it were up to me I'd use ICQ instead of MSN, but I can't since only russians use it now (technically I can, but I'd have no contacts).

      • by masdog (794316)
        Sorry. Poor choice of words. I should have said dying network, not dying technology.
    • Do people still use ICQ?

      I wouldn't know about US or other countries, but it's the single most popular IM service in ex-USSR countries, and there are no signs of this changing anytime soon.

    • Do people still use ICQ? I thought it was a dying technology in 2000

      ICQ is based in Israel and has always had strong regional loyalties. Bids are in for AOL's sale of ICQ--it's down to 'UN' of 4 buyers [cnet.com] [Feb 8]

  • by OnePumpChump (1560417) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @10:04PM (#32706560)
    But good luck, they're behind 7 proxies.
  • kgb c u but usa no c u!

  • ...other than "Prime Time Russia"?

  • Surprise, surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by anti-NAT (709310) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @10:23PM (#32706640) Homepage

    A peer-to-peer architecture would be better for IM - no single point of failure at a server that impacts all conversations, end-to-end security rather than client to server, server to client, and no man in the middle attacks by government agencies or anybody else who chooses to record the conversations going through the servers. I sometimes wonder whether all the public IM servers are run by the "Air America" airline. The only use of a server in IM should be as a directory and participant availability service, not to carry the conversations, unless both participants are behind NAT. If one of the participants have a public IP address the conversations could go direct between the end-points. SIMPLE

    • by Stupendoussteve (891822) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @10:33PM (#32706692)

      AIM has supported this for years, it's called Direct Connection. Trillian and Pidgin both support IM encryption as well.

      Another option is to run your own XMPP server, which can at least guarantee that conversations on that server are safe, but not necessarily those with people on other servers.

    • The only use of a server in IM should be as a directory and participant availability service, not to carry the conversations, unless both participants are behind NAT.

      XMPP does that, or can do if you want it to,

      end-to-end security rather than client to server,

      and OTR will do that.

    • "A peer-to-peer architecture would be better for IM [...] no man in the middle attacks [...] The only use of a server in IM should be as a directory and participant availability service"

      And there goes your "no MiM" asumption.

      • by anti-NAT (709310)

        []"no MiM"[]

        Looks like you agree with me (Selective quoting can easily change the argument.)

        I didn't say there wasn't an opportunity for any MiM - what I said was -

        "no man in the middle attacks by government agencies or anybody else who chooses to record the conversations going through the servers."

      • by WNight (23683)

        Presumably in a p2p network, where everything is a potential mitm attack, you wouldn't be able to ignore the possibility of it and would thus build encryption, signing, and data hiding into the protocol.

  • hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @10:32PM (#32706688)
    I dunno what's more shocking, that the government thinks ICQ has any relevance with anything anymore or that someone thought the network was worth $186 MILLION dollars. That's just insane.
    • someone thought the network was worth $186 MILLION dollars. That's just insane.

      "Someone" is a Russian company. ICQ is extremely popular in Russia (it's the most popular IM service).

    • ICQ's current network is worthless... it's an AIM client with it's own interface and numbering-for-usernames scheme. However, as a brand name it's still worth something to those who remember when it was cool.

      Look what's happened to Napster. From being the #1 illegal file sharing system, to now a division of Best Buy selling legal streaming and MP3 downloads... people realized that once separated from the sued-to-death original company, the name and logo still had value.

    • Not to point out a flaw in your logic, but one kinda follows the other, don't you think?

    • by westlake (615356)
      I dunno what's more shocking, that the government thinks ICQ has any relevance with anything anymore or that someone thought the network was worth $186 MILLION dollars. That's just insane.

      It's not insane for a Russian buyer to be interested in a service has 50 million users in its core markets of Israel and eastern Europe.

  • I always knew AOL was a decoy network set up to trap black hats! But not even the grey beards of the US Gov't could match the talent pool that meets daily on ICQ to discuss their new devious missions.
  • by purpleraison (1042004) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @12:28AM (#32707164) Homepage Journal

    First off, if the 'US' is 'sure' of something (for example weapons of mass destruction), then you can be 100% certain the US is up to no good.

    Second, "The US is sure that most criminals use ICQ and..." ---- really?? I will happily plunk down a $1,000,000 bet and walk down to the nearest prison and ask a random sampling of 'criminals' what they know about ICQ. Rest assured, almost none of the criminals will have a clue about ICQ. Kids however, would be able to tell you all about it. ...maybe the US is referring to kids who download shitty music as 'criminals'? If keeping ICQ in order to track a bunch of pimply-faced kids downloading music is 'National Security', then America is truly fucked.

    • i've been in a holding cell and i've never used ICQ.
      (Although i wasn't actually convicted... so maybe we'll need someone else to come forward)

  • Forget the U.S. potentially snooping ICQ, and pay attention to the fact that Russians almost certainly will. If you thought it was unsafe to send a CC or SSN over ICQ before now (which it was), well you better double down on that conviction and warn everyone you know that uses ICQ just where the traffic will be headed from now on...

    I don't mean to offend anyone, but the simple fact is that bribery is not that uncommon in Russia so there are many more paths for organized crime to get to key numbers such as

  • by ExtraT (704420) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @01:59AM (#32707452)

    A warning to people out here: RT is the Russian international propaganda channel - ANYTHING it reports should be taken with a grain of salt and verified through other sources.

    RT is a farely new Russian government owned news channel, and has been gaining more and more presence everywhere lately. Their journalism is extremely untrustworthy - fabrications are common and government anti-america propaganda is rampant.

  • Priorities (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wowsers (1151731) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @02:30AM (#32707542) Journal

    Let me get this right, the US authorities are worried about the ICQ* service going to the Russians.... has the US seen just how much their economic rivals China own of the US economy? Get your priorities in order.

    * Does anyone actually use ICQ any more?

  • ICQ vie QIP (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Max_W (812974) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @09:24AM (#32708774)

    ICQ is used in FSU via a convenient client "Qip" http://qip.ru/ [qip.ru] Almost nobody is using an original ICQ client.

    I think the US and RF governments should fight cyber-crime together.

    Businesses in the FSU usually have a low profit margin. At the same time, the USA is one of the top spam generating countries http://www.projecthoneypot.org/spam_server_top_countries.php [projecthoneypot.org]

    Spam kills our businesses in FSU because colleagues spend a lot of working time on dealing with it. Spam filters do not help anymore. This is an area where the RF government should be interested in cooperation with the US authorities to reduce the amount of spam incoming into our businesses. Without an international effort this problem can not be solved.

    I guess there could be criminals who may use ICQ, but I know for sure that there are criminals who flood our servers with spam. Significant part of this spam has the US origin. So there is a vast field for law enforcement agencies to cooperate.

    For example, a mobile police team from Russia could bust a spam kings, say, in Alabama, destroy spam servers and go home in Russia. It is much harder task to do for local cops. And vice-versa. A team of the US police officers could bust, say, a soft pirates' sweetshop somewhere in Siberia and go home after destroying the illegal production and equipment. Again it is not an easy task for local police to come and destroy a business, even an illegal one.

    Nowadays when we are in one and the same network it would be more productive to cooperate than to confront.

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