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The FBI Defends Deploying Malware From A Tor Child Porn Site (gizmodo.com) 244

An anonymous reader writes: The FBI issued a press release about the 30-year prison sentence for a 58-year-old Florida man running "the world's largest child pornography website, with more than 150,000 users around the world." But their investigation involved what Gizmodo describes as "a decision controversial to this day" -- taking over the child pornography site and running it "for almost two weeks while distributing malware designed to unmask its visitors." Thursday the FBI described it as "a court-approved network investigative technique" which led to more than 1,000 leads in the U.S. and "thousands more" for law enforcement partners in other countries, leading to arrests in the EU, Israel, Turkey, Peru, Malaysia, Chile, and the Ukraine. Those 1,000 U.S. leads led to "at least 350 U.S-based individuals arrested", as well as actual prosecutions of 25 producers of child pornography and 51 hands-on abusers, while 55 children were "identified or rescued" in America, and another 296 internationally who were sexually abused.

Though Motherboard describes it as hacking "over 8,000 computers in 120 countries based on one warrant," the FBI calls it their "most successful effort to date against users of Tor's hidden service sites," adding that the agency "has numerous investigations involving the dark web." Though they'd soon became aware of the site's existence, "given the nature of how Tor hidden services work, there was not much we could do about it" -- until a foreign law enforcement agency discovered the site had "slipped up" by revealing its actual IP address, and notified the U.S. investigators. The FBI also says the investigation "has opened new avenues for international cooperation in efforts to prosecute child abusers around the world."

The site's two other administrators -- both men in their 40s -- were also given 20-year prison sentences earlier this year.
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The FBI Defends Deploying Malware From A Tor Child Porn Site

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  • Not a problem (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Sunday May 07, 2017 @06:37AM (#54370639) Homepage Journal
    It isn't "malware". It is software designed to figure out where these users are.
    • Re:Not a problem (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Highdude702 ( 4456913 ) on Sunday May 07, 2017 @06:48AM (#54370665)

      under normal circumstances i would be upset. but children were involved and theyre making it sound like they have rescued active sex slave children. therefor i cant say what they did was wrong.

      • Re:Not a problem (Score:5, Insightful)

        by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Sunday May 07, 2017 @07:56AM (#54370809)

        under normal circumstances i would be upset. but children were involved and theyre making it sound like they have rescued active sex slave children. therefor i cant say what they did was wrong.

        On the surface, I agree with you.

        That said, the problem with your mentality is this little thing called precedent, which creates one hell of a slippery slope.

        Today, this activity by law enforcement is "justified" by your moral compass, and a complete lack of analysis to determine if what they actually did was illegal translates into accepted behavior.

        Tomorrow, this same activity by law enforcement may be used to silence what they deem as "propaganda". Or illegally search through ISP records to build cases, perhaps by parallel construction. Or enslave and hide the truth based on political contributions. All because it was once accepted by the masses when think-of-the-children was peddled out in front of the illegal activity.

      • Re:Not a problem (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday May 07, 2017 @08:06AM (#54370833)

        The end justifies the means is a rather dangerous attitude. Because the end-goalpost can move quite quickly. After all, disagreeing with dear leader may destabilize the country, and who would want that?

        • Re:Not a problem (Score:5, Insightful)

          by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Sunday May 07, 2017 @10:03AM (#54371163) Homepage Journal

          The end justifies the means is a rather dangerous attitude. Because the end-goalpost can move quite quickly.

          A just as chilling thought is that law enforcement has and is gradually slid from a focus on protection to a focus on punishment. Was the "ends" in the law enforcement's view to stop a crime in progress or to catch and convict as many people as possible?

          If this had been a fentanyl distribution ring, would they have allowed it to operate in order to arrest as many people as possible, or would they have shut it down in the interest of public safety, even knowing that some of the users would be able to find other outlets?

          • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

            by BlueStrat ( 756137 )

            If this had been a fentanyl distribution ring, would they have allowed it to operate in order to arrest as many people as possible, or would they have shut it down in the interest of public safety, even knowing that some of the users would be able to find other outlets?

            Of course they'd allow the ring to operate while they scooped up easy pickings. This is the same government that allowed weapons that they insisted be sold illegally to be taken to Mexico and those weapons were subsequently used in a number of violent crimes, one of which was the murder of a US border agent. You notice how many went to jail over that?

            It's a wonder the FBI didn't give the pedos free machine guns and let them walk.

            Strat.

          • The ends of law enforcement is usually to make law enforcement look good. Child abuses are possible the most loathed of all criminals - the public utterly hates them to an extend that can be hard to imagine. If a politician were to propose that they be executed by slowly lowering them feet first into a woodchipper, I wouldn't be surprised if a majority voted in favor. So arresting a load of people for possession of child pornography is a great publicity win, even if none of the arrested ever actually abused

          • If they took over a drug ring instead, they probably would have run it way longer. It's kinda hard these days to generate funds for ... certain operations that you can't really have in your public budget.

            Child porn just doesn't generate any money, so it's ok to shut it down after a while.

        • The end justifies the means is a rather dangerous attitude.

          Especially since it isn't clear that the means leads to the end. The presumption is that viewing child porn leads to violence against children. There is very little evidence to support that hypothesis, and quite a bit more that contradicts it. Over the last 20 years, access to porn has skyrocketed because of the Internet, but sexual violence has gone down by 55%. Perhaps mastrubating to porn functions as an alternative to "real" sex.

          The argument that child porn hurts children during its creation is bogu

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        So you would also consent to a camera in every bedroom (including yours), because that may rescue some children?

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        If you throw all the FBI agents in jail, and throw out all the convictions, were those children still rescued? Yes? Then the "for the children" doesn't matter. The government should not be allowed to actively participate in a crime. Even if "only" to catch others.

        If this was a non-criminal investigation "for the children" then free the abused children. But don't use the tainted evidence in criminal proceedings.

        You can have one without the other.
      • If child pornography is so heinous that merely viewing the material is a crime, then I don't see any justification for a government agency intentionally distributing it. These are government employees, mind you, telling us that it's OK when they do it, yet a crime when you do it. That's a very dangerous position to take and all attempts to normalize this type of thinking need to be fought.

    • Re:Not a problem (Score:5, Insightful)

      by OpenSourced ( 323149 ) on Sunday May 07, 2017 @07:10AM (#54370713) Journal

      That's not the problem. The problem is that the FBI was distributing child pornography for two weeks. This kind of things are always contentious, because setting the limits is tricky. Can a policeman pay a confident with drugs? Can an FBI agent watch a child being raped without intervening because they hope to free more children that way? Can a undercover agent kill some innocent person to keep their cover? As said, the limits are difficult to set.

      In the end it's the old question: Does the end justify the means? The answer has always been "It depends". You can say that in this particular case, the answer for you is "yes". But the question is nott, in my opinion, something to dismiss so cavalierly.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        In my opinion, the FBI and most other USA LEO TLAgencies are not morally superior to whomever they go after, not any more, not by any stretch of the imagination. They're merely the enforcers, that that's all to it.

        This, and the fact they've been getting away with it for decades, says things about the USA that its population ought to take to heart and think about.

        Remember, there might have been other means to reach the goals, and those weren't explored. Even if those were less or not at all practicable, that

      • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Sunday May 07, 2017 @08:05AM (#54370829) Journal

        In the end it's the old question: Does the end justify the means? The answer has always been "It depends". You can say that in this particular case, the answer for you is "yes". But the question is nott, in my opinion, something to dismiss so cavalierly.

        If we stipulate it is acceptable for law enforcement to run a pron site because X children were rescued, we have ceased the negotiations over whether the action is proper.

        We have now reduced the equation to a bidding war over what value of X justifies the operation.

        • by physicsphairy ( 720718 ) on Sunday May 07, 2017 @03:27PM (#54372501) Homepage

          Child pornography is so vigorously prosecuted because its production involves the sexual exploitation of children and its consumption drives that market of exploitation. However, law enforcement continuing to run the site for a minimal amount of time to catch the perpetrators neither creates additional exploitation nor expands the demand -- its effect is to counter and shrink both of those. The negative it does have is contributing to the continued invasion of privacy of the minors involved. Personally, though, as a victim, I would consider having those pictures out there a slightly longer period of time a minuscule addition to the harm of having them initially released and the acts involved in producing them, especially if it is ongoing and the police need the evidence to even find me and rescue me.

          It is comparable to cops going 95 mph on the freeway to reach an emergency. Strictly speaking, they are increasing the chances of a fatal accident. However, they have mitigated those risks by lights, sirens, and extensive training, and only do so to respond directly to an emergency, not to get anywhere they want to go. The premise is entirely different than me going 95 mph to get to a friend's birthday party on time.

          Would it be acceptable for law enforcement to create child pornography or launch a distribution site? No. They would be intentionally creating victims. But given an emergency situation where people are already actively being harmed, it's understood that the police can pursue a policy of minimal harm and minimal risk to resolve the situation, rather than the impossible handicap of zero harm and zero risk.

          • Nice. A very well crafted position. Since no position is entirely without some drawback, I always myself what could go wrong. In this case you are spot on, but if these powers of loose interpretation are extended (and even expanded) to LEOs, there is the possibility of future misuse.

            Under the guise of preventing the sexual exploitation of children (a horrible, horrible thing) law enforcement agencies may use the extra leeway to perform some exploitation of their own.

            It would not be unprecedented.

      • Setting the limits isn't tricky. The police should be held accountable to the same laws as the rest of us. There. Easy.
      • Re:Not a problem (Score:5, Insightful)

        by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock&poetic,com> on Sunday May 07, 2017 @08:19AM (#54370875)

        "The problem is that the FBI was distributing child pornography for two weeks."

        Perhaps you believe that they should have immediately arrested the operator of the site and let the thousands of others continue their activities elsewhere? And let the children remain in captivity? Assuming that the FBI is being honest with us, (?) most will agree that they did the right thing. Those two weeks are inconsequential in comparison.

        • If the goal is to catch abusers, and that's all they caught, I can maybe make an exception. But I have a hard line stance on law enforcement's boundaries, and that sometimes means that guilty men go free.

          Even with an enforced upload ratio, it is not guaranteed that an uploader is an abuser. And this is where your argument turns into "downloading is illegal too so catch them all," which is not what you posted.

          If you believe that everyone downloading should be prosecuted regardless, as long as we caught them

          • you make it sound as if theyre still, after the arrests distributing child pornography

            "FBI continued distribution of illegal content."

            They had a warrant, They had the site operator. youre basically saying they should just let these people continue with their activities. in which case why have police at all? Do you think bait cars should be illegal too?

        • If the theory that the mere possession or tertiary distribution of CP re-victimizes the victim in every case, is true, then the FBI re-victimized tens of thousands on the behalf of the 55 rescued. The FBI committed or aided tens of thousands of acts that would otherwise be felonies. This can only lead to two conclusions. That many of these acts should not be considered felonies, or that the FBI actions in this case were terrible and morally reprehensible.
           

        • Two weeks of child molestation doesn't seem inconsequential - that's two weeks of lifetime trauma to several children. However, rescuing the children and catching the bad guys are the highest priorities, and it seems unfortunately unavoidable to allow the illegal activity to continue for a time, to allow law enforcement to find the children and arrest the bad guys.
          • to add to that. had they just shut it down those children to this day would most likely still be being abused. these people wouldnt be so against it if it was one of their kids.

      • Re:Not a problem (Score:4, Informative)

        by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Sunday May 07, 2017 @08:28AM (#54370889)

        One of the arguments against is that it is a slippery slope. The only thing that works long-term is that LEOs may not commit crimes, no exception. Otherwise they begin to resemble those that they fight more and more, because it is just so much easier.

        In the case at hand, by the very definition of the DOJ (!), the FBI committed child abuse for two weeks, and the step to actually directly abusing children is a small one. I do not see why they should get away with that. Otherwise, they can next start to produce this type material themselves by raping children, because that can get them into the inner circles of such groups if they have new material to swap. They may even only have to rape a few children and may as a result safe a lot more!

        I think the problem here is entirely obvious and it is very obvious that the FBI stepped far over the line.

      • Re:Not a problem (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Gavagai80 ( 1275204 ) on Sunday May 07, 2017 @09:00AM (#54370957) Homepage

        It's not as if the FBI set up their own site and curated their own collection of child porn. They simply continued the service for two weeks after their first opportunity to shut it down. If the FBI takes over the leadership of a massive drug cartel, then I think it would also be perfectly reasonable for them to allow the cartel's employees continue distributing drugs for 2 weeks for the purpose of catching them and their contacts in the act of doing something illegal.

        • The only reason we could accept this line of argument is if you agree that the sale or use of drugs is not inherently wrong, that it is simply prohibited on utilitarian grounds. The current legal theory about CP is that it is inherently wrong and re-victimizes the subject whenever and wherever it is distributed. Either the current legal theory is wrong, (my theory), or the FBI did something objectively wrong and morally reprehensible.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      And how [arstechnica.com] do you think it does that? They hack the browser, only the payload is different. Granted their code doesn't do anything malicious but anyone can take their exploit, pop in a cryptolocker and have their own remotely exploitable 0-day malware. This is the police going black hat along with the NSA.

    • If it's surreptitiously installed without the knowledge of the person using the computer or the owner of the computer, it's malware

  • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Sunday May 07, 2017 @06:59AM (#54370699)
    Thirty years? Maybe it's worth that but I find it very strange and disturbing that raping children draws far less a penalty than possessing an image of a naked child.
    Why are they not tracking down the people making the images instead of a vast sting operation on patsies looking at them while the FBI is running the site?
  • Some people don't know where to draw the line. You cannot defend a right like protecting your privacy when trying to avoid the immediate violation of other peoples' much more important rights.

    Logically, this should be done under very exceptional and fully-justified circumstances; and never preventively, systematically or arbitrarily. Not to mention that "law-enforcers"/governmental entities unfairly abusing this or any other power should be severely punished by each single unmotivated violation of any per
  • ...But the fact is to substantially harm these networks, such actions are ultimately justifiable.

    Yes, ends justify means. It's true here, it's almost always been true.

  • Because those two are close enough / equivelent?

    A break down of how many were identified (not something they desire) versus how many were rescued (something they desperately desire) is probably the single most important number in that story.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Indeed. Ultimately, this can mean not a single one rescued and 55 identified from material they already had. Of course, they want everybody to think "nearly 55 rescued", but that is not the statement they made.

  • Child porn is illegal because distributing it harms children. Doing that in order to catch criminals is not OK.

    • How exactly does distributing it harm children? Producing it, yes. But distributing? Also it's worth noting that many countries consider artistic depictions, photomanipulations and even written material featuring children in sexual situations to be equally illegal. How does that harm any children?

      Protecting children is only half of the reason for the legal prohibition. The other half is that the public in general feels that anyone who likes such material is sub-human filth and needs to be excluded from soci

      • I think the main reason is that demand fuels production and therefore distribution fuels production as well.

        • Purchasing fuels production by adding money to the system. I don't see how free distribution does that, but possession of CP is illegal even if no money changed hands. I assume the argument is that no one should have images of their abuse / rape distributed on the internet.

      • The argument that possessing child porn, not just purchasing or producing child porn should be illegal is that the images are harmful to children in some fashion. Otherwise there would be no reason not to allow the large amount of existing CP to be distributed for free. In fact making distribution of existing CP illegal probably encourages the production of new material, and that production is obviously harmful. The only way this policy makes any sense is if the images themselves are harmful.

        I have no per

  • If it works here (Score:2, Insightful)

    by willoughby ( 1367773 )

    If it works for child porn, what about muderers? Why not come up with a plan to distribute guns to villains in order to track down killers?

    Oh, hang on...

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    • Yeah, for the folks saying this was ultimately a good thing, have no clear vision of what occurred in this scenario. Our government, regardless of intent, was distributing material we as a society, have decided is outside the bounds of acceptability and legality. This is no different than our government performing any other illegal actions.

      The ends do not ever justify the means when we discuss our law enforcement agencies performing illegal acts. We as a society, should expect our law enforcement agencie
  • by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock&poetic,com> on Sunday May 07, 2017 @08:30AM (#54370891)

    There is an aspect to this story that may be disturbing to some. That is: we value some human lives higher than others. We have special laws to punish people who harm children, police, pregnant women, etc. We have unwritten laws (yet obvious to observers) that skin color changes the value of some humans. Age is another factor. Consider a situation where you must choose between saving the life of a sweet innocent baby and a crusty old college professor who is leading the research on a cancer cure. How do you value these lives? Which would you save?

    • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Sunday May 07, 2017 @09:47AM (#54371109) Homepage Journal

      Consider a situation where you must choose between saving the life of a sweet innocent baby and a crusty old college professor who is leading the research on a cancer cure. How do you value these lives? Which would you save?

      I know it's not the prevalent view, but I'd save an adult over a child any day. Children is a renewable resource. We can always produce more. But the amount of effort having gone into creating the adult is far more.
      If I were driving down the road and suddenly there were a string of people across it, and I could not possibly stop in time, I'd aim for the youngest. No doubt in my mind at all.

      The reproductive capacity of humans is so strong that the cultural worship of and obsession about children seems illogical. Even more so these days, when most children get to grow up, and too few die from pressure for evolution to have much effect.

      Much of this seems to be rooted in the binary thinking of prevalent religions, where life is "sacred" and there is a mysterious "soul" that humans attain at birth, or in some cases earlier. Add parental instincts that makes sense for ancestors fighting for survival, but not in a world where children's survival rates are close to unity, and we use prophylactic methods to reduce the number of babies popping out in the first place.
      IANAP, but I think this sick worship of children could be part of the reason why there's so many suffering from unhealthy attraction to them.

      To me, it seems more logical to define a personal view of "human" as a value of the worth of the individual to humanity, with a peak individual being 100 and a child starting at 0 and ending at 0 again if living to old age dementia.

      tl;dr: Children are not special. Most anyone can have them.

    • by bidule ( 173941 ) on Sunday May 07, 2017 @10:45AM (#54371309) Homepage

      We protect the ones who cannot protect themselves.

      The rest is intellectual masturbation.

    • Consider a situation where you must choose between saving the life of a sweet innocent baby and a crusty old college professor who is leading the research on a cancer cure. How do you value these lives? Which would you save?

      * If you are driven purely by emotion then you save the baby.
      * If you want to save the most lives then you save the professor.
      * If you are worried the rapid rise in the global population depleting our resources then you allow both to die because the professor could extend the lives of many people who would otherwise die and the baby is just one more person taking up resources.
      * If you are trapped somewhere and only wish to survive then the professor and you eat the baby and then fight to the death when you

  • How on earth is this controversial? They stopped the exploitation of children and put away men that deserve to never see the light of day, so this is anything but controversial, it's the rare time you can say the US hit a home-run. It was bound to happen one day.
    • Their actions may well constitute a crime. It certainly pushes the limits.

      A crime does not cease to be a crime just because the end result was a positive.

      If you say that law enforcement should be permitted to break the law with impunity if that's what it takes to catch criminals, then welcome to the police state.

      • In this kind of case, I don't think that could apply, as children were being violated and exploited. This wasn't a case where the users were innocent or even in a state they could try and claim innocence. For these kind of cases, I don't see a problem.
  • by gnasher719 ( 869701 ) on Sunday May 07, 2017 @11:13AM (#54371405)
    All this so-called "malware" did was to provide a link to a website that someone could click on, and if someone clicked on it, their IP address was available to the website, which is just how the internet works. If I click on a www.amazon.com link, amazon gets my IP address. That's the same thing.

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