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December 10, 2007 20:48 - German Police Complain They Can't Break Skype's Encryption

German police have expressed frustration about their inability to decipher the encryption used by Skype in order to tap into the VoIP calls of suspected terrorists.

Lawful interception (wiretapping) of telephone calls has happened since the introduction of phones and in many countries, telephone companies must allow wiretapping in order to be granted a license. VoIP services provided by software firms independent of ISPs complicate this picture.

"The encryption with Skype telephone software creates grave difficulties for us," said Joerg Ziercke, president of Germany's Federal Police Office (BKA) at an annual gathering of security and law enforcement officials. "We can't decipher it. That's why we're talking about source telecommunication surveillance - that is, getting to the source before encryption or after it's been decrypted."

Ziercke's comments are an attempt to justify controversial German plans - yet to be legally approved - to develop "remote forensic software"... otherwise known as a law enforcement Trojan.

Proposals to give explicit permission for law enforcement officials to plant malware arise from a Federal Court ruling earlier this year declaring clandestine searches of suspects' computers to be inadmissible as evidence, pending a law regulating the practice.

Ziercke told reporters that it was not asking Skype to divulge its encryption keys or leave "back doors open" for law enforcement authorities, arguing that such requests would leave the eBay-owned VoIP firm at a competitive disadvantage to other services. "There are no discussions with Skype. I don't think that would help. I don't think that any provider would go for that," he said.

The idea of a law enforcement Trojan has sparked a fierce civil liberties debate, as well as objections from the IT security community.

German police are reportedly looking to hire two "specialists" to develop "white hat" malware that have capabilities, such as capturing the raw output of microphones on compromised PCs.

See Skype, for further details.

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December 17, 2007 17:23 - One In Five PCs Infected With Rootkits

Malware researchers have highlighted what they are calling a 'massive growth' in the number of PCs harboring rootkit infections. The statistics highlight a growing concern in terms of both the number of infected PCs and those housing silent rootkit infections.

More than 725,000 PCs were scanned by Prevx over a two-month period. Significantly, although rootkits were detected on 15.6% of PCs during October 2007, that figure had risen to 22% by early December.

Rootkits are often 'dropped' or buried by other infections. They then modify a PC's operating system to hide themselves from both the user and any security products installed on the computer. However, root-kits are there for one reason only... to ensure that an intruder can access the system and take control whenever they wish -- much like a backdoor Trojan horse. By so doing, rootkits can allow criminals to remotely monitor, record, modify, steal and transfer data from the victim's PC.

Some rootkits are undetectable by conventional antivirus and antispyware applications. A tech-savvy user may believe his or her computer is 'clean', and unwittingly pass on increasingly valuable personal and financial data.

One of the most common and worrying uses of rootkits is to use the compromised computer as a platform to launch attacks against other computers or networks. The attacker basically launches spam, tools that relay chat sessions or even denial of service attacks from the compromised computer.

For more about what a rootkit is and free rootkit removers , see How To Defeat A Rootkit

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