Feds square off with organized cyber crime

R.A. Hettinga rah at shipwright.com
Thu Feb 24 05:00:29 PST 2005


The Register

 Biting the hand that feeds IT

The Register ; Security ; Network Security ;

Feds square off with organized cyber crime
By Kevin Poulsen, SecurityFocus (klp at securityfocus.com)
Published Wednesday 23rd February 2005 22:08 GMT

RSA 2005 Computer intruders are learning to play well with others, and
that's bad news for the Internet, according to a panel of law enforcement
officials and legal experts speaking at the RSA Conference in San Francisco
last week.

Christopher Painter, deputy director of the Justice Department's computer
crime section, spoke almost nostalgically of the days when hackers acted
"primarily out of intellectual curiosity." Today, he says, cyber outlaws
and serious fraud artists are increasingly working in concert, or are one
and the same. "What we've seen recently is a coming together of these two
groups," said Painter.

Ronald Plesco, counsel to the National Cyber-Forensics and Training
Alliance, a computer forensics organization established by the FBI and
private industry, agreed, and pointed to the trend in recent years of
spammers building networks of compromised computers to launder their
fraudulent email offerings.

Tim Rosenberg, a research professor at the George Washington University,
warned of "multinational groups of hackers backed by organized crime" and
showing the sophistication of prohibition-era mobsters.

"This is not about little Jimmy Smith breaking into his ex-employer's
website and selling information to competitors," he said. "What we're
seeing is just sheer, monstrous" levels of crime."

Painter acknowledged that recreational hackers are still out there, but he
believes they're a minority. He reads the future of cyber crime and
investigation in the joint Secret Service and Justice Department "Operation
Firewall" crackdown on Internet fraud rings last October, in which 19 men
were indicted for allegedly trafficking in stolen identity information and
documents, and stolen credit and debit card numbers.

At the center of Operation Firewall was an online forum called Shadowcrew,
which served as the trading floor for an underground economy capable of
providing a dizzying array of illicit products and services, from credit
card numbers to details on consumers worthy of having their identities'
stolen. "Individuals all over the world would work together to hack into
systems, steal information and then sell information," said Painter. "[It
was] a very, very highly structured, organized network."

Faced with that kind of organization, law enforcement agencies are turning
to undercover operations, said Painter. To take down Shadowcrew, the Secret
Service secretly busted a high level member of the group, turned him into
an informant, and operated him undercover for more than a year, according
to court records. "Law enforcement was essentially running that group at
one point," said Painter.

Painter prosecuted Kevin Mitnick in the 1990s, and he still insists that,
from the victim's point of view, old-fashioned recreational hackers are as
bad as today's multi-disciplined cyber criminals. "But it was a simpler
time," he admitted after the presentation.
R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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