WASHINGTON ― An FBI hacking operation across multiple countries leads to questions as to how U.S. diplomacy could be affected, the Daily Beast finds.
The operation in question was the 2015 FBI Operation Pacifier investigating the child pornography site Playpen. The site was situated in the dark web, and used the software Tor to mask the physical location of servers and site visitors.
Playpen’s administrator’s were found to be operating in the U.S, though when the FBI gained access to the site’s server, the bureau kept it operational. The idea was to utilize a network investigative technique, an exploit and malware in order to grab the identifying information of Playpen users from their computers and use that to subpoena internet service providers in revealing Playpen visitor identities.
The FBI had subsequently hacked 8,000 computers in 120 countries, including Russia, China and Iran, which have been known for antagonistic relationships with the U.S. over computer hacking.
However, the Daily Beast indicates that when the FBI deploys malware or hacks into a foreign computer, all that the target may see “is a piece of suspicious software connecting to a U.S. government facility ― something that could easily ring alarm bells.” This in turn could lead to a foreign country issuing arrest warrants for those involved in a hack, as Russia did in 2002 when the FBI hacked a Russian server that was involved in a cybercrime spree.
Even in cases involving crimes such as child pornography, without properly articulated norms and procedures between international bodies, particularly ones in tension with the U.S., such hacking operations could lead to lack of cooperation, if not downright antagonism in the cases.
Cybersecurity researcher Collin Anderson solidified this idea by saying that “the true risk is how the FBI’s procedures and communications about their use of malware creates international norms that are adopted by countries where rule of law is weak.”