Template:Infobox Software Magic Lantern is keystroke logging software developed by the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation. Magic Lantern was first reported in a column by Bob Sullivan of MSNBC on 20 November 2001[1] and by Ted Bridis of the Associated Press.[2]

How it worksEdit

Magic Lantern can reportedly be installed remotely, via an e-mail attachment or by exploiting common operating system vulnerabilities, unlike previous keystroke logger programs used by the FBI.[3][4] It has been variously described as a virus and a Trojan horse. It is not known how the program might store or communicate the recorded keystrokes.


In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed in 2000 by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the FBI released a series of unclassified documents relating to Carnivore, which included the "Enhanced Carnivore Project Plan". Sullivan's confidential source said that redacted portions of that document mention "Cyber Knight", Template:Cquote

Example Deployment MethodEdit

The FBI intends to deploy Magic Lantern in the form of an e-mail attachment. When the attachment is opened, it installs a trojan horse on the suspect's computer. The trojan horse is activated when the suspect uses PGP encryption, often used to increase the security of sent e-mail messages. When activated, the trojan horse will log the PGP password, which allows the FBI to decrypt user communications.[5][6]

Spokesmen for the FBI soon confirmed the existence of a program called Magic Lantern. They denied that it had been deployed, and they declined to comment further.[7]

Antivirus Vendor Cooperation Edit

The public disclosure of the existence of Magic Lantern sparked a debate as to whether anti-virus companies could or should detect the FBI's keystroke logger.

Concerns include uncertainties about Magic Lantern's full potential and whether hackers could subvert it for purposes outside the jurisdiction of the law.[8][9]

Bridis reported that Network Associates (maker of McAfee anti-virus products), had contacted the FBI following the press reports about Magic Lantern to ensure their anti-virus software would not detect the program.[10] Network Associates issued a denial, fueling speculation as to which anti-virus products might or might not detect government trojans.[11]

CNET News has surveyed 13 security companies about their contacts with and level of cooperation with law enforcement authorities.[12]

Graham Cluley, a technology consultant from Sophos, said "We have no way of knowing if it was written by the FBI, and even if we did, we wouldn’t know whether it was being used by the FBI or if it had been commandeered by a third party".[13] Another reaction from this came from Marc Maiffret, chief technology officer and cofounder of eEye Digital Security who states: "Our customers are paying us for a service, to protect them from all forms of malicious code. It is not up to us to do law enforcement's job for them so we do not, and will not, make any exceptions for law enforcement malware or other tools."[14]

When asked if Magic Lantern would need a court order to deploy, FBI spokesman Paul Bresson would not comment, stating: "Like all technology projects or tools deployed by the FBI it would be used pursuant to the appropriate legal process."[15][16] Proponents of Magic Lantern argue the technology would allow law enforcement to efficiently and quickly decrypt messages protected by encryption schemes. Implementing Magic Lantern does not require physical access to a suspect's computer, unlike Carnivore, a predecessor to Magic Lantern, since physical access to a computer would require a court order.[17]

See alsoEdit


Further readingEdit

  • Amanda So and Christopher Woo. "The Case for Magic Lantern: September 11 Highlights the Need for Increased surveillance," Harvard Journal of Law and Technology. v15, p521. (discusses the legal framework surrounding the use of keystroke loggers in law enforcement)

External linksEdit

es:Magic Lantern eo:Magic Lantern fr:Magic Lantern

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