Internet service providers may soon get an open-source alternative to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's controversial Carnivore computer surveillance system, which delivers court-ordered information on criminal suspects.
In an attempt to give service providers a way to comply with court orders without installing Carnivore, Network Ice Corp. is developing Altivore.c, an Internet-sniffing program complete with inspectable source code.
San Mateo, Calif.-based Network Ice has released the source code for Altivore and has posted a demo of the program at www.networkice.com/altivore.
The new e-mail sniffer was developed in response to EarthLink Inc.'s questioning of the FBI's Carnivore program. According to Network Ice, Altivore gathers information from just one data stream without violating the privacy of other users. The FBI's Carnivore has been condemned by critics who say it's a "black-box" system that conceals its source code from companies forced by court order to install it on their networks.
In addition to privacy issues, said Ed Hansen, a spokesman for Atlanta-based EarthLink, concerns persist about how any such program will affect network stability. He said EarthLink has developed its own program in-house but is looking at Altivore as well.
Programs that reveal their source code like Altivore does are much better tools for protecting the privacy of subscribers, according to Hansen. "When we have a view into what the program is doing, we can look at the information it returns, where it is coming from [and] what it is about and ensure that we are delivering discreet information to the investigative agency," he said.
Whether law enforcement agencies will accept Altivore remains to be seen, but the FBI and the courts have said Carnivore isn't the only tool e-mail tappers can use. In July, a judge ruled that EarthLink could develop and use its own tool.
"In the best-case scenario, if an ISP chooses to construct their own intercepts with their own tools, that works out best for everyone, as long as they are in compliance with wiretapping statutes and are willing to provide evidence on chain-of-custody issues such as how the information was intercepted and who had access to it," said FBI spokesman Paul Bresson.
Network Ice said its source code, which is intended only for programmers, still requires extensive debugging. Instructions for compiling are provided within the source code, and the company is encouraging developers to add features to Altivore, such as packet reassembly.