Do Hackers and Spammers Get Away With It?
It may seem that the bad guys have free rein on the Internet. The flood of spam never seems to slow, and everyone knows someone who was hacked recently. Identity theft is rampant, and phishing scams continue, despite all the attention focused on this problem. Why can't the cops put these cyber criminals out of business once and for all?
Do Cyber-Criminals Ever Get Caught?
We often hear about phishing scams, where people are duped into giving up their online banking credentials, credit card info, or social security numbers. Sometimes these folks end up losing their life's savings. Hackers in dark corners of the Internet spread fake anti-virus software to trap unsuspecting users. Shady online pharmacies peddle useless counterfeit pills. And the spam just keeps rolling in.
It does seem that spammers and other online criminals operate without fear of getting caught. Can't the police, the legitimate security firms, the banks and other financial institutions involved track down the perpetrators? There has to be a money trail, or other electronic tools to trace these online evil doers, right?
Well, yes... sometimes the good guys do win. Oleg Nikolaenko is currently being held without bond on charges that he was responsible for sending one-third of the world's spam traffic - up to 10 billion unsolicited emails per day. He faces up to five years in prison. Albert Gonzalez, who masterminded the theft of 130 million credit card numbers, will spend the next 20 years in jail. And Sanford "Spamford" Wallace, one of the most notorious spammers of all, surrendered to the FBI last fall. It's almost certain he will see jail time, after being indicted by a federal grand jury for electronic mail fraud, intentional damage to a computer, and criminal contempt.
In the past year, some of most active botnets have been taken down by the diligent efforts of computer security firms and law enforcement cooperating across international borders. The Rustock botnet, and the Kelihos botnet, which controlled millions of infected PCs worldwide, have been neutralized. Microsoft and Kaspersky helped in these efforts, but the identity of the perpetrators remains unknown. But last November, the FBI raided two data centers in Chicago and New York, in coordination with police in Estonia who arrested several people who were operating the Esthost botnet. And in March 2010, the combined actions of Panda Security, authorities in Spain, and the FBI, led to the takedown of the Mariposa botnet and arrest of the kingpins behind it. Mariposa was the largest botnet to date, infecting over 12 millions computers.
A Slap On The Wrist?
And yet, the penalties seem slight compared to the magnitude of the crimes. That's one reason why cybercrime continues unabated. Even when cybercrooks are busted, they often get away with a slap on the wrist. Prison is an expensive punishment, and many prisons are overcrowded. So jail time is reserved for violent offenders and drug users, while so-called white collar criminals go free or get off easy.
Cybercrime often crosses national borders, which further complicates the investigation of crimes and apprehension of criminals. It's not uncommon for spammers and other cyber-criminals to use servers that are physically based in another country, usually one that does not cooperate with U.S. law enforcement. Russia and China are two hotbeds of rogue servers. And foreign governments are often reluctant to take action, when crimes by their citizens are committed in other countries.
Ironically, the same tools used by law-abiding tinfoil hat wearers to safeguard their privacy are also used by crooks to cover their tracks online. Proxy servers, virtual private networks, encryption, and other technologies make it difficult for law enforcement to identify cybercriminals and collect evidence.
The bad guys outnumber the good guys by a wide margin, too. Cybercrime is like the illegal drug trade. For every kingpin knocked down, there are several lower-level players waiting to take his place. The barriers to entry into cybercrime are very low. Basically, any kid with a little technical savvy can become a hacker or spammer.
After the Mariposa bust, investigators were surprised to learn that the operators of that botnet did not have advanced hacking skills. So there will always be cybercrooks among us. Some will be caught and punished, but the cybercrime problem is not likely to go away.
Bottom line, the law cannot always keep you safe from spammers and hackers. It's up to each of us to be on guard against spam, phishing, spyware, keyloggers, Trojans, rootkits, and all the other dangers thrown at us. Here are a few links where you can learn more about protecting your computer from these and other dangers:
- Free Anti-Virus Programs
- Anti-Spam Email Filters
- Spear Phishing and Internet Security
- I Think I Have a Rootkit!
- How To Defeat a Keylogger
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome! Post your comment or question below...
Posted by Bob Rankin on 23 Feb 2012
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Do Hackers and Spammers Get Away With It? (Posted: 23 Feb 2012)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved