[ISN] Feds square off with organized cyber crime

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Thu Feb 24 12:23:47 EST 2005


By Kevin Poulsen
23rd February 2005

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

"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

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.

More information about the ISN mailing list