Cyber Crime and Cyber Justice

“Identity Theft Soars in 2009”
“Cyber Crime at Record Highs”
“Online Scammers Work Overtime in the Downturn”

These are the types of headlines that we see time and time again in the security news, reminders of the extent to which sophisticated online scammers are taking a toll on the safety and security of computer users around the world. Here at Lavasoft, we're aware of that on a daily basis; everyday, our dedicated team of analysts at the Lavasoft Malware Labs researches the behavior of a multitude of threats, enabling our Ad-Aware software to protect you from the latest malware advancements.

Still, there is a bigger picture involved, as law enforcement agencies around the world work diligently to track the online scams and schemes plaguing the Internet, in order to find those responsible and bring them to justice.

Unfortunately, the Internet has made it easier for criminals to scam victims, as they work across borders, separated from those they are stealing from by countries or even continents. While investigators of cyber crimes do have additional challenges in tracking down criminals and bringing about positive change, progress is being made, both by regular law enforcement and by organizations – like the Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Defense's Cyber Crime Center – that work with other government agencies, the private sector, academic institutions and foreign governments to prevent, investigate and prosecute cyber crimes.

Take, for example, the headlines of a different kind that broke in mid August 2009: “Alleged International Hacker Indicted for Massive Attack on U.S. Retail and Banking Networks.” In what officials say is the largest data theft ever charged, Albert Gonzalez, along with his co-conspirators, was indicted on charges of hacking into computer networks and allegedly stealing more than 130 million credit and debit cards.1 The case is being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service.

To keep pace with these types of cyber criminals and their increasingly sophisticated scams, investigators and law enforcement need to be able to move quickly and with streamlined processes in place. One of the most well-known law enforcement agencies in a full-fledged battle to track cyber criminals and bring them to justice is the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). According to its website, the FBI's cyber mission is “first and foremost, to stop those behind the most serious computer intrusions and the spread of malicious code.”

The FBI has several cyber operations, including a Cyber Division at FBI headquarters, specially trained cyber squads at 56 field offices across the United States, Cyber Action Teams that travel the world to assist in computer intrusion cases, 93 Computer Crimes Task Forces around the country, and growing partnerships with other federal agencies.

The FBI also established the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a joint effort with the National White Collar Crime Center, to serve as a clearinghouse to triage cyber complaints – then sending leads to federal or international law enforcement for further investigation. In any given month, the IC3 has an intake of roughly 20,000 complaints that are waded through to uncover patterns and go after the scammers.

“Bots. Worms. Viruses. Spyware. Hacking....Every day, criminals are invading countless homes and offices...not by breaking down windows and doors, but by breaking into laptops, personal computers, and wireless devices via hacks and bits of malicious code. The collective impact is staggering. Billions of dollars are lost every year repairing systems hit by such attacks. Some take down vital systems, disrupting and sometimes disabling the work of hospitals, banks, and 9-1-1 services...” according to the FBI's website.

While investigators are experiencing an onslaught of cyber crime, the FBI's work has been noteworthy in bringing criminals to justice. A major break came in late 2008, when the FBI, together with its global partners, wrapped up a two-year undercover cybercrime investigation of “Dark Market,” a message forum for online criminals where stolen information, as well as tools to facilitate online fraud, were bought and sold. The operation resulted in nearly 60 arrests worldwide, the prevention of $70 million in potential losses, and the FBI said, the confirmation that “while there might be honor among thieves, in the end, they are still just thieves.”

“It showed that we can get you no matter where you live. We were able to make internal relationships and work cases jointly with law enforcement in other countries. In the future there will be other joint cases in Europe and around the world. You don't necessarily have to be in the U.S. for us to bring you to justice,” said FBI Special Agent J. Keith Mularski, whose undercover work was central to the sting operation, in an interview with CNET News.2

While there are undoubtedly positive steps being taken, cyber crime continues to be pervasive, as well as lucrative for online criminals. Working across borders to track the web of crime rings and finding global solutions to combat scams remains challenging for those trying to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“The bottom line is to make sure there are consequences for criminal cyber actions and similar consequences everywhere,” said Christopher Painter, Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI's Cyber Division, at the International Conference on Cyber Security. The event was sponsored by the FBI in January 2009 to find global solutions to emerging threats, and brought in cyber experts and law enforcement officials from over 35 countries.3

“The bad guys need to know there is no free ride,” Painter said.

To stay up-to-date on the ongoing progress being made in cyber crime, stay tuned on the Lavasoft company blog where we keep you posted with regular updates on the latest initiatives, cyber crime news, and enforcement measures around the world.

1http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2009/August/09-crm-810.html

2http://news.cnet.com/8301-1009_3-10234872-83.html

3http://www.fbi.gov/page2/jan09/fordham_011409.html

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BY THE NUMBERS
Complaints of online crime hit a record high in 2008, with a 33% increase over the previous year. Losses linked to online fraud were estimated at $265 million.

Source: Internet Crime Complaint Center
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WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING
“The three areas to successfully fight online crime are trust, speed, and comprehension... using a common reporting format and some well–implemented tools allows us to enhance the ability to quickly identify, understand, and mitigate the problems brought on by e–criminals.”

–Patrick Cain, Anti–Phishing Working Group
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