How Carnivore Worked

Carnivorous Evolution

Carnivore was the third generation of online-detection software used by the FBI. While information about the first version has never been disclosed, many believe that it was actually a readily available commercial program called Etherpeek.

In 1997, the FBI deployed the second generation program, Omnivore. According to information released by the FBI, Omnivore was designed to look through e-mail traffic travelling over a specific Internet service provider (ISP) and capture the e-mail from a targeted source, saving it to a tape-backup drive or printing it in real-time. Omnivore was retired in late 1999 in favor of a more comprehensive system, the DragonWare Suite, which allowed the FBI to reconstruct e-mail messages, downloaded files or even Web pages.

DragonWare contained three parts:

  • Carnivore - A Windows NT/2000-based system that captures the information
  • Packeteer - No official information released, but presumably an application for reassembling packets into cohesive messages or Web pages
  • Coolminer - No official information released, but presumably an application for extrapolating and analyzing data found in the messages

­ As you can see, officials never released much information about the DragonWare Suite, nothing about Packeteer and Coolminer and very little detailed information about Carnivore. But we do know that Carnivore was basically a packet sniffer, a technology that is quite common and has been around for a while.