back to article Apple, Facebook and Coinbase coughed data to finger alleged pirate king

The United States case against alleged Kickass Torrents (KAT) boss Artem Vaulin is built on data obtained from Apple, Facebook and Coinbase. The criminal complaint (PDF) against Vaulin details how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted a lengthy online probe into the alleged …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "When the United States Federal Bureau of Intelligence asked Apple to unlock the San Bernardino killer's iPhone, the company made a point of saying it complies with court orders when they don't involve handing over personal data from iPhones. That position seems not to extend to me.com email accounts."

    Yeah, contradictory isn't it.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Yeah, but the San Bernardino killer was a high-profile, public case.

      This is a piracy facilitator, not worth protecting because nobody will blame them.

      1. ratfox

        The San Bernardino case meant them creating a new version of the phone software that would allow the feds to get inside. This case just means going through their own databases. That I understand, that's the reason why they could legally fight the order then and not now.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Contradictory?

      No, it isn't. In both cases Apple is simply protecting its products and its business. Breaking the iPhone means less iPhone sales. Piracy means less iTunes sales. If you can also slap on a "we're the good guy" sticker while protecting your business, the better, very welcome and almost free PR.

      It's the same reason behind the Microsoft fight to protect Irish-stored emails.

      Well explained here: http://dilbert.com/strip/2016-04-18

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Contradictory?

        The law clearly requires Apple to provide the government the information it did in this case. There is no law that requires Apple to write special software to help the government break into an iPhone, hence the FBI trying to claim some law from the late 1700s should be applied by the court. That's the key difference here.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Re: Contradictory?

          Do you believe the infrastructures telcos need to setup and maintain to ensure conversations can be tapped on law enforcement agencies requests, come free? They have to setup *special* systems to tap, collect, store them and make them available to agencies. They have a cost.

    3. Medixstiff

      As stated though the FBI wanted a firmware to give them unlimited PIN tries on the iPhone.

      Apple stated that was a bad idea as it lessened people's security. From what I remember not once did the FBI ask for the iCloud backups, they wanted access to the device.

      In this case Apple let them have everything stored in his iCloud account, a big difference.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fuck the govt and the tech co's

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Fuck thieves...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        fuck

        globalmegahypercorp for paying paltry sums to genuine artists and ruining peoples lives and livelihoods for downloading one song. Fuck them for assuming that everyone else is a pirate. Fuck them for putting rootkits on CDs, etc etc. In fact, just fuck them.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Whoops

    That is "Federal Bureau of Investigation" not "Intelligence", BTW.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Whoops

    That is "Federal Bureau of Investigation", BTW.

    1. WolfFan Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Whoops

      That is "Federal Bureau of Investigation", BTW.

      No, that's Fart, Barf, and Itch.

      Or Fucking Bunch of Idiots

      Thank you fans, I'm here all night.

  5. Oengus

    on or about December 9, 2015, tirm@me.com used IP Address 78.108.181.81 to conduct another iTunes transaction. The same IP Address was logged as accessing the KAT Facebook Account on or about December 4, 2015

    If this IP address is a DHCP supplied address from an ISP or Public Wi-Fi hotspot in 5 days it could have been used by hundreds or thousands of users.

    1. gnasher729 Silver badge

      "If this IP address is a DHCP supplied address from an ISP or Public Wi-Fi hotspot in 5 days it could have been used by hundreds or thousands of users."

      But that doesn't matter if that IP address isn't used for a conviction. All it was used for was to put a name to an IP address. Once they had the name, they could investigate the person. Say the police find a library card at the scene of a crime (which has happened). That gives them a name, and a person, and they can investigate that person. Anybody could have dropped the card, and in that case the person will be found innocent. Or the criminal dropped his own card, in which case the police will try to find evidence against one particular person, which is a lot easier than finding evidence against one unknown person.

      1. nijam Silver badge

        > Anybody could have dropped the card, and in that case the person will be...

        ...framed?

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Interesting part about a Bitcoin exchange giving up transaction details

    I wonder how the Bitcoin aficionados are going to react to that. It is obviously the end of the vaunted anonymity of Bitcoin transactions.

    I'm going to keep this article bookmarked. Every time I read someone spouting on about how Bitcoins are anonymous, I'll link it.

    1. Rob 44

      Re: Interesting part about a Bitcoin exchange giving up transaction details

      Bitcoin is anonymous.

      Coinbase however, is not.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why did they take so long to track him down? KAT has been the top torrent site for years, so I doubt it was lack of willing.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    iTunes torrents? Its a murky iCloud Privacy 'free for all' World behind the scenes.

    Seems likely that the iTunes transactions / IP addresses listed in this case were released by Apple because it was Apple that instigated the prosecution/provided the evidence that the torrents been shared were iTunes versions of tracks or albums and Apple fingerprinted those tracks, traced them back to their initial purchase.

    Apple have never said they wouldn't use the information they have to instruct a prosecution themselves (or help in a prosecution), if they found iTunes versions on BitTorrents. After all, its not just the Artist, but also Apple that feel they are been 'short changed' here.

    The interesting point, is who went on the fishing expedition to get this site shut down, did FBI examine the site, see iTunes versions of tracks were been shared, thought this track was bought by someone - then went to Apple or did Apple go on the fishing expedition, see iTunes versions of tracks wee been shared, and sought a prosecution by the FBI.

  9. thomas k

    "suspect caught when he bought something on iTunes"

    And they say irony is dead.

  10. piyushjain

    Apple got diplomatic in its value than, whatever i have liked KAT

  11. Slx

    There's a massive difference between the iPhone and the contents of a hosted email account.

    Any email provider ultimately has access to the contents of their servers unless they're selling some kind of specifically anonymous service.

    Typically, they're not providing email services that are end-to-end encrypted in a way that they have no access to data and their systems administrators would technically be able to access all sorts of content and metadata. Legally speaking, in the US and probably in Europe and definitely elsewhere, they can be compelled to hand that content over in an investigation.

    With the iPhone case, Apple was legally in a very different position. They were being asked to effectively crack an iPhone to which they had no access at all without the keys. What they refused to do was reverse engineer software to break it open.

    That's *very* different to deciding to refuse access to information on e-mail servers. If they did, they wouldn't have a leg to stand on legally speaking.

    Standard email shouldn't ever be considered entirely private. It's more like a letter in the post - secured by a bit of glue and paper. All it takes is the digital equivalent of a steaming kettle to gain access to the contents.

    It isn't the ISPs, telcos and email hosts who trigger these things, it's the structure of privacy laws / laws around warrants and wire taps that allow ever-increasing levels of access.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They were being asked to effectively crack an iPhone to which they had no access at all without the keys. What they refused to do was reverse engineer software to break it open.

      Wrong I'm afraid, and it is really important that we don't think of it that way. I'll explain later.

      Apple are Apple, the creators of iOS. They do have the only keys that matter, the code signing keys. Possession of these allows them to write any software that any iPhone will unquestioningly install and run, no matter what it does. As it happens the court order obtained by the FBI asked them to write some software that was pretty mild in comparison to what Apple could actually do if they chose to. For example Apple can, if they wanted to, remote install a backdoor on every iPhone on the planet (iCloud is effectively that anyway). All the FBI asked for was unlimited PIN retries on one specific iPhone, a change requiring the modification of a single statement in the source code.

      Also none of this is reverse engineering. For Apple it's forward engineering from the source code. For everyone else it's reverse engineering from handsets. Forward engineering is much easier.

      So Apple were unable to claim that it was technically difficult or technically expensive to comply with the order, nor could they claim that it would affect every iPhone. The FBI were quite subtle in what they asked for, and had the court order been dragged through the whole legal system it was not guaranteed that Apple would ultimately win.

      Apple chose to argue in public (loudly and at some length) that it would be commercially difficult. This was far less convincing than "technically impossible", especially as the degree of commercial difficulty was proportional to how loudly Apple complained about it.

      As it happens the FBI found other means and the issue of the court order remains unresolved. Apple are left with the knowledge that there is an undisclosed flaw in an old version of iOS. We are left with an infuriated law enforcement system and a bunch of enraged politicians who may now pass a law imposing a backdoor. If that happens we may find ourselves wishing Apple had gone along with the FBI's original request.

      That is why it's important that we don't plug the line that Ad Hoc assistance is somehow hard, difficult or damaging. By doing so we're more likely to end up with a universal backdoor. Which from a technology point of view is no better for law enforcement than something ad hoc, but is far more damaging to government-society relationships. Far better to have ad hoc law enforcement assistance provided by Apple on production of a reasonable warrant, with Apple effectively acting as guarantor that Uncle Sam is not taking the piss.

      Thus Apple's strategy in this is now very risky. Though in their defence we don't know for sure if the FBI's request had been made in private first and rebuffed by Apple, or whether the FBI stupidly went straight to court thus making the issue public from the very beginning without asking Apple in private first. Either way it is now down to the politicians to make laws on the matter as they see fit on behalf of all Americans and one of those may be Donald Trump.

      Also, unless Cook actually engages with them he won't be able to complain about whatever law they choose to pass. Of course we're not party to whatever private conversations are going on, but if he ignores people like McCain then he has no influence on what gets proposed and voted on.

      1. gnasher729 Silver badge

        This has been discussed ad infinitum months ago. Apple could (probably) have written software that would weaken the security on an old iPhone 5c enough to enable a break in, even if the owner used a four digit passcode and set security to "erase phone after 10 incorrect passcode attempts". However, writing such software would create a risk that the same software would escape into the wild and could then by used by criminals or foreign secret services to break into the phones of innocent citizens. With the ignorance and stupidity that the FBI had shown, not a risk but a certainty :-( So breaking into this one phone would have carried the risk of making millions of phones insecure.

        It's even possible that someone like the NSA always had the ability to break that specific security - and wasn't telling anyone including the FBI about it. In case they would need that ability for something important, not for cracking the work phone of a murder who was long dead. In that case they might even have asked Apple not to crack that phone. Obviously if that was the case, we would never hear about it.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Appalling OpSec

    Not much more to say, really. If you're doing something that's going to attract the attention of the Feds, even if it is just Homeland Security, you really shouldn't be reusing email addresses, trusting companies like Apple to keep your information confidential, or using IP addresses that can be connected to you or your other activities. Amongst other things.

  13. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    "To The Register's eye, the complaint looks to do a very decent job piecing together an individual's online activities and raises the question: if the Feds can do this for a piracy suspect, what can they do for a really bad guy?"

    No, it raises the question: why are considerable resources and skills wasted on going after the instigator of a torrent site? You'd think there were some guys ranked a lot higher on the 'most wanted' list. Like, you know, guys that want to kill people, and lots of them.

    Oh, and iTunes just sucks, big time.

    1. fandom

      There is also more than one FBI agent.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I guess the "pirate king" figured they'd never come after him

    If he'd used GPG or similar to encrypt his emails that revealed sensitive information, and used Tor to connect to stuff, they probably never would have caught him. He was doing nothing to cover his tracks, and it made him fairly easy to track down using traditional investigative methods. I imagine there are other, more paranoid, targets that the FBI isn't having so much luck yet.

    The next pirate site, and there will always be a next pirate site, will probably be run by someone who takes more active measures to cover his tracks.

  15. Ropewash

    Bad guys...

    "question: if the Feds can do this for a piracy suspect, what can they do for a really bad guy?"

    Answer: Figure out who he was 3 months after he's already blown up a shopping centre.

    All these sweeping new surveillance laws and datamining and backdoors are for the express purpose of catching guys just like this one, because some companies/organisations are willing to pay big money for the job. No-one pays them anything to catch a shooter or a predator, they just do that on the side to grab headlines and generate goodwill.

    Perhaps slightly too cynical, I'm wearing my foil hat today.

  16. heyrick Silver badge

    "if the Feds can do this for a piracy suspect, what can they do for a really bad guy?"

    In this day and age, pirate are the really bad guys.

    The terrorists that we'd expect the Feds to be looking for - they'll slip through the net, under the radar, etc. Lessons will be learned, I'm sure. Just as soon as the next popular torrent site is brought down...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Disappointing..

    Interesting that an El Reg reporter cannot tell the difference:

    When the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation asked Apple to unlock the San Bernardino killer's iPhone, the company made a point of saying it complies with court orders when they don't involve handing over personal data from iPhones. That position seems not to extend to me.com email accounts.

    The iPhone data was encrypted, which, following properly applied Kerckhoff's principles should not even be accessible to Apple (which, btw, also protects Apple against precisely such requests as it does not have a backdoor). Compelling a manufacturer to break their own product is (as I have explained, many, many times before) akin to asking a Super Secure Safe manufacturer to crack their own product AFTER the safe has been installed and the bank has set their own code and an order thus amounts to Court ordered commercial suicide.

    The .me account data is just data living on a server, and can be accessed even in countries more benign in handling privacy by means of a court order if a suspicion of crime is validated. As a matter of fact, the holding company in question would have no argument in that case.

    To The Register's eye, the complaint looks to do a very decent job piecing together an individual's online activities and raises the question: if the Feds can do this for a piracy suspect, what can they do for a really bad guy?

    Legally, the Feds can do an awful lot, but they're trying to hide just how much power they have as it is not politically expedient to lay that bare.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another terrorist caught by the Feds...

    ...oh no hang on, it's just a guy running a Web site with indexed, searchable links on but not hosting any content.

    Like Google.

    Except Google fund the US government but this guy didn't.

    I see now why they arrested him.

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