Computer Crime Research Center


Microsoft hires bounty hunter to fight

Date: November 03, 2005
By: Daniel Thomas

While the internet is providing new opportunities for businesses and consumers, its success is also making it a lucrative ground for criminals.

Organised crime syndicates and individual hackers are exposing flaws in IT products and consumer knowledge to steal money, costing UK businesses £2.4bn last year.

Microsoft, the world’s biggest software organisation, is a prime target for criminals trying to exploit vulnerabilities in its technology to launch viruses, compromise computers and plant money-stealing trojans.

Scott Charney, chief security strategist and vice president of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing initiative, is the person responsible for combating this growing threat.

‘We are seeing more organised crime activity. As the internet becomes more mainstream it is not surprising that criminals are targeting it. We are seeing the growth of botnets and spyware, which both have huge implications for businesses,’ he says.

‘Once criminals become involved you are no longer dealing with isolated script-kiddies, but rather with a growth in profit-driven crime. From spam and phishing to more sophisticated botnets, it is clear that companies are being extorted.’

Charney joined Microsoft in April 2002. His career includes roles as chief of computer crime in the US Department of Justice’s criminal division and assistant district attorney at Bronx County in New York State.

His aim at Microsoft is to reduce successful computer attacks and increase consumer confidence in online security.

Since Charney’s appointment Microsoft has launched a multi-pronged attack against internet criminals, working on new technologies and consumer campaigns to limit criminal activity.

Through participation with law enforcement agencies and by putting bounties on the heads of virus writers, the company is looking to make criminals think twice before launching their attacks, he says.

‘The only way to stop this type of crime is to deal with it in the same way as any other crime: you need to vigorously pursue and prosecute people,’ he says.

‘You can bed in systems to prevent a successful attack but you can’t stop people from launching the attacks. This is where the government comes in.’

Last year, Microsoft and the FBI scored a major success by tracking down teenage virus writer Sven Jaschan after two of his school friends were tempted by the $250,000 (£141,000) reward for information, which eventually led to his arrest.

Jaschan, who cost businesses millions of pounds by creating the Sasser and Netsky worms, received 30 hours’ community service for his crimes.

‘People who write and distribute viruses often talk. It is hard to identify the source of a virus using technical means because of the way they propagate, so we want to offer incentives to encourage people to come forward and report them,’ says Charney.
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