Carnivore Details Emerge
Kevin Poulsen, SecurityFocus 2000-10-04
A web spying capability, multi-million dollar price tag, and a secret Carnivore ancestor are some of the details to poke through heavy FBI editing.
" Carnivore is remarkably tolerant of network aberration, such a speed change, data corruption and targeted smurf type attacks. "
FBI report WASHINGTON--The FBI's Carnivore surveillance tool monitors more than just email. Newly declassified documents obtained by Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Carnivore can monitor all of a target user's Internet traffic, and, in conjunction with other FBI tools, can reconstruct web pages exactly as a surveillance target saw them while surfing the web.
The capability is one of the new details to emerge from some six-hundred pages of heavily redacted documents given to the Washington-based nonprofit group this week, and reviewed by SecurityFocus Wednesday. The documents confirm that Carnivore grew from an earlier FBI project called Omnivore, but reveal for the first time that Omnivore itself replaced a still older tool. The name of that project was carefully blacked out of the documents, and remains classified "secret."
The older surveillance system had "deficiencies that rendered the design solution unacceptable." The project was eventually shut down.
Development of Omnivore began in February 1997, and the first prototypes were delivered on October 31st of that year. The FBI's eagerness to use the system may have slowed its development: one report notes that it became "difficult to maintain the schedule," because the Bureau deployed the nascent surveillance tool for "several emergency situations" while it was still in beta release. "The field deployments used development team personnel to support the technical challenges surrounding the insertion of the OMNIVORE device," reads the report.
The 'Phiple Troenix' Project In September 1998, the FBI network surveillance lab in Quantico launched a project to move Omnivore from Sun's Solaris operating system to a Windows NT platform. "This will facilitate the miniaturization of the system and support a wide range of personal computer (PC) equipment," notes the project's Statement of Need. (Other reasons for the switch were redacted from the documents.)
The project was called "Phiple Troenix"--apparently a spoonerism of "Triple Phoenix," a type of palm tree--and its result was dubbed "Carnivore." Phiple Troenix's estimated price tag of $800,000 included training for personnel at the Bureau's Washington-based National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC). Meanwhile, the Omnivore project was formally closed down in June 1999, with a final cost of $900,000.
Carnivore came out of beta with version 1.2, released in September 1999. As of May 2000, it was in version 1.3.4. At that time it underwent an exhaustive series of carefully prescribed tests under a variety of conditions. The results, according to a memo from the FBI lab, were positive. "Carnivore is remarkably tolerant of network aberration, such a speed change, data corruption and targeted smurf type attacks.
The FBI can configure the tool to store all traffic to or from a particular Internet IP address, while monitoring DHCP and RADIUS protocols to track a particular user. In "pen mode," in which it implements a limited type of surveillance not requiring a wiretap warrant, Carnivore can capture all packet header information for a targeted user, or zero in on email addresses or FTP login data. Web Surveillance Version 2.0 will include the ability to display captured Internet traffic directly from Carnivore.
For now, the tool only stores data as raw packets, and another application called "Packeteer" is later used to process those packets. A third program called "CoolMiner" uses Packeteer's output to display and organize the intercepted data. Collectively, the three applications, Carnivore, Packeteer and CoolMiner, are referred to by the FBI lab as the "DragonWare suite."
The documents show that in tests, CoolMiner was able to reconstruct HTTP traffic captured by Carnivore into coherent web pages, a capability that would allow FBI agents to see the pages exactly as the user saw them while surfing the web.
Justice Department and FBI officials have testified that Carnivore is used almost exclusively to monitor email, but noted that it was capable of monitoring messages sent over web-based email services like Hotmail.
An "Enhanced Carnivore" contract began in November 1999, the papers show, and will run out in January of next year at a total cost of $650,000. Some of the documents show that the FBI plans to add yet more features to version 2.0 and 3.0 of the surveillance tool, but the details are almost entirely redacted.
A document subject to particularly heavy editing shows that the FBI was interested in voice over IP technology, and was in particular looking at protocols used by Net2Phone and FreeTel. EPIC attorney David Sobel said the organization intends to challenge the FBI's editing of the released documents.
In the meantime, EPIC is hurriedly scanning in the pages and putting them on the web, "so that the official technical review is not the only one," explained Sobel. "We want an unofficial review with as wide a range of participants as possible." The FBI's next release of documents is scheduled for mid-November.
Some other publically available documents:
Court Order to force Eathlink to install Carnivore
Letter to Senators requesting information