A Story About Government Malware – The Federal Trojan

The term “Federal Trojan” has been dominating media reports for several months and is currently a hot topic in almost every forum. In the following article we summarize what this is all about and explain our position as a manufacturer of security software.

Let us journey back in time to Germany in the year 2005. At this time the German Secretary of the Interior, Otto Schily, was asked by Heinz Fromm (ex President for Protection of the Constitution) to create a method of spying on the computers of suspicious criminals. This resulted in a number of court decisions that, briefly put, clearly forbade the secret searching of suspects. What remains is the possibility of confiscating a PC and then examining the contents of the hard drive in detail.

You may ask why such an uproar exists when online searches are forbidden. Simple: It is still undecided whether online searches are permissible for secret service purposes. In the opinion of the Department of the Interior, secret searching of PCs should be permitted for the authorities responsible for the protection of the constitution, the military counter-espionage service (MAD), and the Federal Intelligence Agency (BND). Some federal states, with Nordrhein-Westfalen leading the way, have also allowed “Investigation over the Internet” via a constitutional decision. If you live in one of these federal states and wish to take legal action against this, the Federal Constitutional Court is already occupied with a related case, which is to be decided on October 10, 2007.

Amidst all the various reports, rumors and court decisions, one thing remains clear: the uncertainty as to whether the state is allowed access to our computers connected to the Internet and especially whether this is even possible. Uncertainty has also been created by the statements of some security software manufacturers saying that, in case of doubt, they are prepared to cooperate with government departments. Of course, one cannot easily gain full access to a computer. To do this, either a suitable security hole allowing smuggling of a spy program must exist on the target system, or the spy software must be manually installed online or offline. This spy program then records the relevant data and sends it to the person spying.

This type of software that provides hidden access to a computer is generally referred to as a Backdoor Trojan. Basically, the term Federal Trojan is a synonym for Government Malware.

You can therefore see that Government Trojans, Remote Forensic Software Tools, or whatever they may be called, are not just a media fantasy to fill a lack of summer news. It is hard to imagine anyone being willing to allow their computer to be searched anytime without their knowledge. Critics of this type of “benign” Trojan often mention the problem of other hackers possibly using this to gain access to monitored computers. You can imagine the legal consequences of an “open barn door” installed by the government. Compared to the scenario of an inventive hacker penetrating a PC using the same weak point, an online search by the police or the secret service seems positively harmless.

As a manufacturer of security software we would like to make our position clear at this point and assure you that we will never consciously install a hole in our Anti-Malware series of products in order to allow access for a Government Trojan or similar software. If it ever comes to a legislative or court decision that forces us to do this then we will immediately notify our users of this fact. Until then, especially the behavior analysis module of Emsisoft Anti-Malware (Malware-IDS) does not distinguish between “benign” and “malignant” pests. As a user, you always have the possibility of immediately blocking a suspicious program.

Discussions on “Government Trojans” with our partner companies in the anti-virus sector have shown that no-one is prepared to produce country-specific versions of their protection software. The administrative and technical effort required to implement special changes to the software for every government on the planet will result in either legal and lawsuit chaos or it will multiply the price of the product several times. The general tone in the security sector is: customers who wish to protect their privacy by purchasing security software have a right to the best possible protection – without compromise.

Have a Great (Malware-Free) Day!