Magic Lantern (software)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Magic Lantern software)

Magic Lantern
Original author(s)Federal Bureau of Investigation
Operating systemMicrosoft Windows

Magic Lantern is keystroke logging software created by the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Magic Lantern was first reported in a column by Bob Sullivan of MSNBC on November 20, 2001[1] and by Ted Bridis of the Associated Press.[2]


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 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",

a database that sorts and matches data gathered using various Carnivore-like methods from e-mail, chat rooms, instant messages, and Internet phone calls. It also matches files with captured encryption keys.

Example deployment method[edit]

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]

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.[6]

Antivirus vendor cooperation[edit]

The 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.[7][8]

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.[9] Network Associates issued a denial, fueling speculation as to which anti-virus products might or might not detect government trojans.[10]

CNET News has surveyed 13 security companies about their contacts with and level of cooperation with law enforcement authorities. None of them confirmed that their products cover up malware installed by the government.[11]

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".[12] 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."[13]

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."[14][15] 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.[16]

Following the media coverage of Magic Lantern, F-Secure (a Finnish anti-virus company), announced their policy on detecting government spying programs: "F-Secure Corporation would like to make known that we will not leave such backdoors to our F-Secure Anti-Virus products, regardless of the source of such tools. We have to draw a line with every sample we get regarding whether to detect it or not. This decision-making is influenced only by technical factors, and nothing else, but within the applicable laws and regulations, in our case meaning EU laws. We will also be adding detection of any program we see that might be used for terrorist activity or to benefit organized crime. We would like to state this for the record, as we have received queries regarding whether we would have the guts to detect something obviously made by a known violent mafia or terrorist organization. Yes we would."[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sullivan, Bob (November 20, 2001). "FBI software cracks encryption wall". NBC News. Retrieved November 20, 2007.
  2. ^ Bridis, Ted (November 22, 2001). "FBI Develops Eavesdropping Tools". The Washington Post.
  3. ^ "FBI's Secret Spyware Tracks Down Teen Who Made Bomb Threats". Wired Magazine. July 18, 2007. Archived from the original on May 25, 2008.
  4. ^ "Threat of Terrorism On U.S. Infrastructure". The New York Times. December 31, 2001.
  5. ^ "FBI Has a Magic Lantern". Archived from the original on May 21, 2005. Retrieved February 23, 2009.
  6. ^ Hentoff, Nat (May 24, 2002). "The FBI's Magic Lantern". Village Voice. Archived from the original on May 12, 2006.
  7. ^ Lawton, George (July 2002). "Invasive Software: Who's Inside Your Computer?" (PDF). Pace University. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 20, 2011. Retrieved March 12, 2009.
  8. ^ "The FBI's "Magic Lantern" Shines Bright". December 11, 2001. Retrieved February 23, 2009.
  9. ^ "An Infographic: Magic Lantern, a Keystroke Logging Software Developed by the FBI". Web Hosting | Cloud Computing | Datacenter | Domain News. July 29, 2013. Retrieved November 21, 2020.
  10. ^ McCullagh, Declan (November 27, 2001). "'Lantern' Backdoor Flap Rages". Wired.
  11. ^ "Security firms on police spyware, in their own words". CNET News. July 17, 2007.
  12. ^ Jackson, William (December 6, 2001). "Antivirus vendors are wary of FBI's Magic Lantern". Government Computer News. Archived from the original on September 10, 2012. Retrieved February 23, 2009.
  13. ^ McCullagh, Declan (July 17, 2007). "Will security firms detect police spyware". CNET News. Retrieved February 23, 2009.
  14. ^ Mills Abreu, Elinor (December 31, 2001). "FBI Confirms 'Magic Lantern' Project Exists" (PDF). Reuters. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 20, 2011. Retrieved March 12, 2009 – via University of Michigan.
  15. ^ Woo, Christopher; So, Miranda (2002). "THE CASE FOR MAGIC LANTERN: SEPTEMBER 11 HIGHLIGHTS THE NEED FOR INCREASED SURVEILLANCE" (PDF). Harvard Journal of Law & Technology. Retrieved March 12, 2009.
  16. ^ Etzioni, Amitai (2002). "Implications of Select New Technologies for Individual Rights and Public Safety". Harvard Journal of Law & Technology – via ResearchGate.
  17. ^ "F-Secure Corporation's policy on detecting spying programs developed by various governments". F-Secure. Archived from the original on February 25, 2012. Retrieved June 25, 2011.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]