FBI agent reportedly gives public demo of Carnivore

FBI agent Marcus C. Thomas (who is mentioned in the EPIC FOIA documents) made a very interesting presentation at NANOG 20 [NANOG is the North American Network Operators Group; their most recent meeting was October 22 through October 24.] yesterday morning, discussing Carnivore.

FBI agent Marcus C. Thomas (who is mentioned in the EPIC FOIA documents) made a very interesting presentation at NANOG 20 [NANOG is the North American Network Operators Group; their most recent meeting was October 22 through October 24.] yesterday morning, discussing Carnivore.

Agent Thomas gave a demonstration of both Carnivore 1.34 (the currently deployed version) and Carnivore 2.0 (the development version) as well as some of the other DragonWare tools.

Most of this information isn’t new, but it demonstrates that the DragonWare tools can be used to massively analyze all network traffic accessible to a Carnivore box.

The configuration screen of Carnivore shows that protocol information can be captured in 3 different modes: Full, Pen, and None. There are check boxes for TCP, UDP, and ICMP.

Carnivore can be used to capture all data sent to or from a given IP address, or range of IP addresses.

It can be used to search on information in the traffic, doing matching against text entered in the “Data Text Strings” box. This, the agent assured us, was so that web mail could be identified and captured, but other browsing could be excluded.

It can be used to automatically capture telnet, pop3, and FTP logins with the click of a check box.

It can monitor mail to and/or from specific email addresses.

It can be configured to monitor based on IP address, RADIUS username, MAC address, or network adaptor.

IPs can be manually added to a running Carnivore session for monitoring.

Carnivore allows for monitoring of specific TCP or UDP ports and port ranges (with drop down boxes for the most common protocols).

Carnivore 2.0 is much the same, but the configuration menu is cleaner, and it allows Boolean statements for exclusion filter creation.


The Packeteer program takes raw network traffic dumps, reconstructs the packets, and writes them to browsable files.

CoolMiner is the post-processor session browser. The demo was version 1.2SP4. CoolMiner has the ability to replay a victim’s steps while web browsing, chatting on ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, AIM, IRC. It can step through telnet sessions, AOL account usage, and Netmeeting. It can display information sent to a network printer. It can process netbios data.

CoolMiner displays summary usage, broken down by origination and destination IP addresses, which can be selectively viewed.

Carnivore usually runs on Windows NT Workstation, but could run on Windows 2000.

Some choice quotes from Agent Thomas:

“Non-relevant data is sealed from disclosure.”

“Carnivore has no active interaction with any devices on the network.”

“In most cases Carnivore is only used with a Title III. The FBI will deploy Carnivore without a warrant in cases where the victim is willing to allow a Carnivore box to monitor his communication.”

“We rely on the ISP’s security [for the security of the Carnivore box].”

“We aren’t concerned about the ISP’s security.”

When asked how Carnivore boxes were protected from attack, he said that the only way they were accessible was through dialup or ISDN. “We could take measures all the way up to encryption if we thought it was necessary.”

While it doesn’t appear that Carnivore uses a dial-back system to prevent unauthorized access, Thomas mentioned that the FBI sometimes “uses a firmware device to prevent unauthorized calls.”

When asked to address the concerns that FBI agents could modify Carnivore data to plant evidence, Thomas reported that Carnivore logs FBI agents’ access attempts. The FBI agent access logs for the Carnivore box become part of the court records. When asked the question “It’s often common practice to write back doors into [software programs]. How do we know you aren’t doing that?”, Thomas replied “I agree 100%. You’re absolutely right.”

When asked why the FBI would not release source, he said: “We don’t sell guns, even though we have them.”

When asked: “What do you do in cases where the subject is using encryption?” Thomas replied, “This suite of devices can’t handle that.” I guess they hand it off to the NSA.

He further stated that about 10% of the FBI’s Carnivore cases are thwarted by the use of encryption, and that it is “more common to find encryption when we seize static data, such as on hard drives.”

80% of Carnivore cases have involved national security.


Also of interest was a network diagram that looked very similar to the one in the EPIC FOIA document at http://www.epic.org/privacy/carnivore/omnivorecapabilities1.html , except that there was no redaction of captions.


Marcus Thomas can be contacted for questions at mthomas@fbi.gov or at (730) 632-6091. He is “usually at his desk.”

Author: Declan McCullagh – EPIC

News Service: politechbot.com

URL: http://www.epic.org/privacy/carnivore/omnivorecapabilities1.html