Crackdown on Cybercrime

Law enforcement has become more interested in cybercrime, especially organized schemes that often cross national boundaries and involve many people. Recent arrests, charges and convictions have been widely publicized to warn potential victims of the risk of cyberattacks. Recent stories illustrate the risk of engaging in online business schemes that could be viewed negatively by organizations such as the FBI, Interpol and U.S. attorney's offices.

For example, the U.S. attorney's office in New York has been cracking down on insider trading schemes that collect and forward online information to traders who then are able to profit from that information. Its conviction rate has been excellent: Recent stories state that the New York effort to clean up Wall Street has resulted in 70 guilty pleas or convictions, out of 71 cases brought.

The convictions were possible because many of the schemes used email to transmit the information that allowed traders to profit. For example, the information used to convict two hedge fund managers came from emails and instant messages that the two had collected from subordinates and used to trade technology stocks such as Dell and chip maker Nvidia. Before emails became more common than phone calls, wiretaps would have been used by law enforcement to try to catch the two.

In another case, the FBI arrested 10 members of an international cybercrime ring that targeted Facebook users. The people arrested were from Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, New Zealand, Peru, and Britain. U.S. Facebook security officials, the FBI and international law enforcement agencies worked together to identify and arrest members of the group, which stole credit card, bank account and personal information from millions of Facebook users.

The conspirators used the Butterfly botnet, or robot network, to send spam emails, create denial of service (DNS) errors and distribute malware that would help them further the scheme once installed on selected computers. The scheme targeted Facebook users between 2010 and October 2012.

Some international schemes use computers, but operate on a very old-fashioned principle: blackmail. One scheme targets European and Asian computer users, injecting malware into their computers and then charging them a fee to remove the software. The software used is known as "ransomware."

Software security company Symantec states that it expects operations like this to move into what it calls "saber rattling," threatening or carrying out online theft and disruption that could destabilize national economies and destroy or steal secure information. Those conducting such schemes could be individuals, organized groups or even governments.

The managing director of McAfee, another computer security company, notes that in addition to cyberattacks becoming more targeted, he expects that malware will become more sophisticated and be able to destroy evidence of its attack, making it much more difficult to identify the attackers.

Both law enforcement groups and their targets are becoming more adept at avoiding detection, as each side grows in sophistication and ability to use complex software and methods.