Who Are These Criminals?
Meet the Internet's new bad guys. Where once "script kiddies"-young amateur hackers-wrote viruses just to cause havoc and show off their skills, they're now building "zombie farms"-armies of PCs controlled from afar-and renting them out to the highest bidder on underground forums you'd never find with a Google search. Increasingly, they're being hired by organized crime syndicates to steal identities and hold corporate Web sites hostage.
"Ten years ago we talked about the Internet as the Wild West," says Peter Swire, a law professor at Ohio State University and a former top privacy official in the Clinton administration. "Now it's more like gangland Chicago in the 1920s. The threats come from organized crime, not lone cowboys."
These cyber-crooks may be dispersed across the globe, each with his own specialty. "This is not your traditional La Cosa Nostra type of organized crime," says Dan Larkin, unit chief for the FBI's Cyber Initiative and Resource Fusion Unit in Pittsburgh. "In many cases, they don't know each other personally, just by trade and screen name."
These gangs in turn may be linked to criminal groups in Eastern Europe, West Africa and South America, Larkin adds. And although international cooperation is steadily improving, he says, pursuing and prosecuting cyber-criminals thousands of miles away remains an enormous
If a criminal lives in Eastern Europe and the local authorities have more important crimes to deal with, there's not much that can be done, admits Jody Westby, CEO of Global Cyber Risk, a Washington, D.C." based security consultancy. And what might be illegal in the U.S. isn't necessarily outlawed overseas. "Cyberspace has no borders, but law-enforcement agencies and diplomats do," she says.
Worse, international crime outfits are beginning to pool their efforts, making them even more of a threat, Westby says. "The Nigerians, who are expert at taking over accounts, are cooperating with the Chinese, who are expert at counterfeiting. We're facing a more sophisticated criminal operating environment, yet we've not gotten more sophisticated in our ability to catch them. They have an advantage, there's no question."
Dan Tynan is author of Computer Privacy Annoyances (O'Reilly Media; 2005).single page
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