Friday, June 5, 2009

Rogue Hosting Company and Server Shut Down: Oddly Enough, I Approve

"Feds Shutter 'Black Hat' ISP"
Wired Privacy, Crime and Security Online (June 4, 2009)

"For the first time, the Federal Trade Commission is shuttering an internet service provider it alleges, 'recruits, knowingly hosts, and actively participates in the distribution of illegal, malicious and harmful electronic content' such as botnets and child porn.

"The company, doing business as and APS Telecom, 'actively recruited' to its hosting service thousands of 'rouge' and 'black hat' web sites distributing 'illegal, malicious, and harmful electronic content including child pornography, spyware, viruses, trojan horses, phishing, botnet command and control servers, and pornography featuring violence, bestiality, and incest.'..."

"...Many of the thousands of sites it hosted were based in Russia, where admins on Thursday were scrambling to resume service. The complaint alleges Pricewert officials helped its member sites create and configure botnets...."


"FTC shuts allegedly rogue Internet provider"
The Associated Press (June 5, 2009)

"The federal government has severed the Internet connection of a company accused of helping criminals serve up a 'witches' brew' of nasty content online, from computer viruses to child pornography.

"It's likely to be just a short-lived victory in the fight against cybercrime, though, since bad guys are very good at getting back online quickly.

"The Federal Trade Commission said Thursday that it has ordered the shutdown of a company called Pricewert LLC, described in a complaint filed in San Jose, Calif., federal court as an Oregon-based shell company run by 'overseas criminals', operating out of Belize and running many its illegal operations out of servers in Silicon Valley...."

The Wired article includes links to .pdf format copies of a San Jose, California federal judge's order for "upstream internet providers and data centers to stop servicing the company, also known as Pricewert,..." and the FTC's lawsuit.

The Associated Press's article points out that one shutdown doesn't mean the end of a problem. The example they give is "...a notorious Internet provider called McColo Corp., which was also operating out of a data center in Silicon Valley...."

McColo was thought to be the source of about half the world's spam when the company's Internet providers pulled the plug on its servers. Sure enough, spam dropped around the world: but it's been growing again.

Interestingly, The Associated Press doesn't identify Russia as the home of many of the company's clients, and puts "overseas criminals" in quotes. There may be very good reasons for the omission, and the use of quotes: but I was reminded of a major metropolitan newspaper's past diffidence regarding Russian (Soviet, at the time) naughtiness ("The New York Times, Insularity, and Assumptions " Another War-on-Terror Blog (October 21, 2008)).

Cybercrime: I May Have Been Wrong

I don't think that the latest shutdown will have more than a temporary effect on the distribution of malware and kiddie porn. But, I think that shutting down the AKA APS Telecom AKA Pricewert operation is a good idea.

I have, in the past, written "...I think serious attention won't be paid to information technology issues until people who grew up with it are in leadership positions: and that will take decades." (April 24, 2009) And:
"I think that it may be another thirty years, at least, before several things come together to make a solution possible:
  • "People who have grown up with the Internet, and understand it to some extent, are old enough to be in positions of authority and responsibility in business and government
  • "Enough countries are sufficiently connected to the Internet - and have political leaders who are not afraid of its citizens
"The first is around twenty to thirty years out. The second is anyone's guess." (April 29, 2009)
A serious, practical, sanction against someone engaging in serious crime is something I hadn't expected to see for a very long time - if ever.

Sure, the RIAA gets after people who threaten the entire recording industry by downloading 24 songs on Kazaa.

Slapping a private citizen with a $220,000 fine for handling two dozen songs is safely inside the envelope, in terms of dealing with criminal activity.

But, go after a company big enough to hire technicians who help clients maintain botnets - networks of computers infected with the client's viruses - and using information technology that didn't exist when most Senators and Representatives were born?

An outfit that big, using technology that America's leaders may or may not understand: I am pleasantly surprised to see legal action being taken.

The Dark Side of Being Protected

I don't approve of kiddie porn, and I think that time wasted dealing with malware is much worse for a business - and an economy - than am employee pilfering paper clips. But, I've argued against efforts to 'save the children' from online porn.

That's because I value freedom of speech.

Today, the Internet is one of the few places where people don't have to get permission from a peer review board, or an editor, or some other traditional information gatekeeper, to share their ideas with others.

Some of what's shared is crazy: like the shape shifting space alien lizard people I've referred to in another blog. I think the marketplace of ideas will keep lunatic fringe ideas where they started out: on the fringe.

Aside from the self-interest of someone whose views may not always meet with the approval of the dominant culture's leaders, I think that society benefits when people are able to communicate with each other.

America came close to having a federal agency which would decide who was allowed to put information on the Internet, and who would be barred from doing so.

I'd like to believe that this was a well-intentioned effort, backed by groups whose philosophies have little in common aside from a fervent desire that only 'correct' ideas be published: like the Christian Coalition and the Feminist Majority. (I'm not making that up.)

I'm particularly troubled, when pre-publication censorship is demanded - to 'save the children' or 'stop the hate,' or whatever. That gets into the "I thought he was going to hit me, so I hit him back first" logic of comic strip anti-hero Andy Capp. America, and other countries, have laws covering libel and slander which can be used to counter damaging statements.

What AKA APS Telecom AKA Pricewert was doing was 'way beyond what I think of as covered by 'free speech.' Never mind the kiddie porn: botnets steal processor time and bandwith, at best. "Malware" is called that for a reason.

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