Sunday, October 3, 2010

International Cyber Crime Ring Busted: 'By Jove, I Think They've GOT It!'

"More than 100 arrests, as FBI uncovers cyber crime ring"
BBC US & Canada (October 1, 2010)

"The FBI says it has cracked a major international cyber crime network after more than 90 suspected members of the ring were arrested in the US.

"The suspects worked as so-called mules for fraudsters based in Eastern Europe who hacked into US computers to steal around $70m.

"More people were detained in Ukraine and the UK, local police said...."

The BBC article links to an FBI statement that includes an illustration of how the fraud scheme worked, available as a PDF file: fraudscheme_new.pdf. (I placed a copy of the FBI document on my domain, in case the FBI webmasters changed the address.)

Even these days, $70,000,000 USD is a noticeable chunk of money.

The Lemming has opinions to share, after excerpts from that FBI statement:

Global Partnerships Lead to Major Arrests
FBI (October 1, 2010)

"The cyber thieves were smart. Instead of targeting corporations and large banks that had state-of-the-art online security, they went after the accounts of medium-sized companies, towns, and even churches. Before they were caught, members of the theft ring managed to steal $70 million...."

"...Using a Trojan horse virus known as Zeus, hackers in Eastern Europe infected computers around the world. The virus was carried in an e-mail, and when targeted individuals at businesses and municipalities opened the e-mail, the malicious software installed itself on the victimized computer, secretly capturing passwords, account numbers, and other data used to log into online banking accounts.

"The hackers used this information to take over the victims' bank accounts and make unauthorized transfers of thousands of dollars at a time, often routing the funds to other accounts controlled by a network of 'money mules.'..."

(from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, used w/o permission)

At the risk of sounding like 'Captain Obvious:' It's not a good idea to open the attachment in an email from someone you don't know. Or, in the case of spoofing, from someone you know - who you weren't expecting an email from.

Terrible syntax, particularly from a recovering English teacher - but I think you get the point.

That $70,000,000 USD was the actual take. The criminals tried to steal $220,000,000. Which, again, isn't exactly chicken feed even today.

Crooks Use Malware to Steal Millions: What's the Big Deal?

'Money isn't everything: but you can't do much without it.'

The crooks involved in this particular criminal enterprise did more than steal money from individuals and smallish organizations. By taking that money, they almost certainly reduced the effectiveness of their victims - which meant that the communities where their victims lived and worked lost what the business types call "productivity."

I wasn't personally affected, but since I'm an American citizen and pay federal taxes - a small fraction of what it cost the FBI in materials and labor to catch these people came out of my pocket.

These effects won't bring about the downfall of Western civilization, or destroy the ozone layer, endanger a species, or any of the other scary things we're supposed to be scared about. At least, the Lemming doubts it.

But there are effects - even when a relatively small sun like $70,000,000 is involved.

Ignoring Crime isn't a Good Idea: We're Learning

The Lemming thinks that a very important point is made in the FBI's closing paragraph:

"...[special agent in charge of the FBI Omaha office Weysan Dun] added, 'The international tolerance for this kind of criminal activity is decreasing. Our partners overseas are dealing more aggressively and effectively with cybercrime than ever before. The number of nations that collaborated and worked in partnership with the Bureau on this case represents a very significant step forward in the way we investigate these cases.' "

This change is happening much faster than the Lemming hoped.

It takes decades for a person to work up to high decision-making levels in almost every system. For example, I'm about as old as some members of Congress. Telephones existed in my 'good old days,' and television was an exciting new technology.

Keeping Track of Today's Technology: Like Telephones, Television and Twitter

It's likely enough that many members of Congress understand what it's like to use telephones and watch television. It's possible that they're wise enough to make sensible laws involving these technologies.

Then there's the Internet. Today, a criminal doesn't have to be in the same hemisphere as the victim. The Lemming is aware of this - but I did not follow a 'success' career track. So, instead of attending staff meetings, signing reports, and working of my putting skills: I kept up with the Information Age's new technologies.

Two lessons here:
  • "Success" isn't always adaptive
  • Legislators and CEOs may not know which century they're at
Perhaps the Lemming is being unkind.

Seriously? I'd considered it possible - even likely - that we wouldn't see 'cybercrime' taken seriously until some of the kids who were born in the eighties and nineties - growing up with MySpace, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest of the Internet - got seniority in the federal bureaucracies, or got elected to Congress.

On my schedule, we're decades ahead of the curve.

Not bad at all.

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