The well-known whitehat hacker and security researcher that goes by the handle Moxie Marlinspike has recently experienced firsthand the electronical device search that travelers are sometimes submitted to by border agents when entering the country.
He was returning from the Dominican Republic by plane, and when he landed at JFK airport, he was greeted by two U.S. Customs officials and taken to a detention room where they kept him for almost five hours, took his laptop and two cell phones and asked for the passwords needed to access the encrypted material on them.
He refused to do so, and all the devices were returned to him before he was released, but he thinks that there is a high possibility that the contents were copied and that hardware was modified or new keyboard firmware was installed. “I can’t trust any of these devices now,” Marlinspike said to Wired.
But this is not the first time Marlinspike has experienced what it means to get additional attention from the authorities. He tells of an instance from two months ago when he wasn’t able to print out his boarding pass and asked ticket agents to do that for him. They weren’t able to do so immediately because they needed to inform the DHS of his travel arrangements first, and so he discovered that he was on a federal watchlist.
Then, when he was returning home from the Black Hat security conference in Abu Dhabi, he was submitted to questioning by an agent from the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt during his layover on the city’s airport.
He speculates that this increased attention he has been receiving lately might have something to do with the recent detainment and interrogation that Jake Appelbaum, a U.S. representative for WikiLeaks, was submitted some months ago when he was traveling from Holland to the U.S. in order to attend the DefCon hacker conference. During this time, his laptop and three cell phones were seized and, Marlinspike believes, his contact information might have been on them since he is a friend of Appelbaum’s – but the denies having any connection with Wikileaks himself.
“I have no idea what’s going on, why this is happening to me,” Marlinspike said in an interview for CNET. “From the questions I’ve had to field it seems like this is part of some larger fishing expedition. There is someone somewhere who wants access to something on my laptop or my phone and they can’t just come and ask me for it. And they can’t get a warrant without suspicion. So, they wait for me to travel internationally because at the border they can do anything they want.”