A network investigative technique, or NIT, is a drive-by download computer program designed to provide access to a computer in order to obtain information about the system or data contained on that computer.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been using network investigative techniques since at least 2002 in cases that include computer hacking, child porn, bomb threats, extortion, terrorism and more.
The information obtained by an NIT can range from simply a computer’s name and address at the most basic level to complete files, web history, webcam activity and more.
Network investigative technique tools have gained recent attention as the FBI has started to use NITs in going after cyber hackers that rely on the open-source Tor software to help them surf the web anonymously.
Network Investigative Technique Tools Under Scrutiny
Government NIT tools have also come under scrutiny as their usage has increased as a result of their potential for privacy abuse and infringement upon the Fourth Amendment, and also because they function as a form of malware that enables unauthorized access to a user’s computer.
At the same time, government agencies have sought to expand their ability to use network investigative techniques beyond the current scope, wherein a judge can only issue an NIT warrant for surveillance of computers within a judge’s jurisdiction.
Rule 41 Could Expand the Power and Use of Network Investigative Techniques
These efforts have led to the U.S. Supreme Court amending a procedural rule known as Rule 41 that would allow judges to issue warrants for the government to use network investigative techniques to hack computers anywhere, including when users rely on the anonymizing Tor network to keep the physical location of their computer hidden.
Rule 41 is on track to go into effect on December 1st, 2016, unless the U.S. Congress reverses the rule changes in legislative action prior to that date.