Computer Crime Research Center


The challenge of global cybercrime

Date: August 21, 2008

We've seen the ads: Earn thousands of dollars a month working from home.

Most of them are scams or wishful thinking; easy money is notoriously hard to find. So what's an ambitious but lazy person to do to get ahead?

Fortunately, there are careers that allow you work from anywhere, and spend your days e-mailing and chatting with colleagues around the world. Barriers to entry are low, and the potential rewards are staggering.

And best of all, it is like shooting fish in a barrel, it's so easy. You even have access to a global community to support you, and to share tools and technical expertise. It's especially rewarding if you locate to a county with sylvan glades, low-cost housing, and no extradition treaty with the U.S. A little planning goes a long way.

U.S. prosecutors recently announced that they have indicted 11 individuals from the U.S., Estonia, Ukraine, China and Belarus. They are charged with hacking into huge U.S. retailers, and stealing what may have been hundreds of millions of payment card numbers and sensitive data that they sold to willing buyers around the world.

The retailers include TJX Companies, owner of the TJ Maxx and Marshalls discount stores. The TJX hack received huge media coverage, for the sheer size of the haul; the thieves may have stolen more than 100 million payment records from TJX alone.

U.S. authorities have described the case as the biggest identity theft and payment card fraud operation ever prosecuted, which sounds encouraging. However, the reality is less heartening.

Despite co-operation from private companies such as Yahoo, Internet providers in Israel, and law enforcement agencies in Belarus, Turkey and Germany, only one of the people charged is actually in U.S. custody; two others are in Turkish and German jails. That is the fruit of an expensive, three-year Secret Service undercover operation. Even if more arrests are imminent, the results must be depressing for the law enforcement agency, despite rhetoric to the contrary.

To add insult to injury, it turns out that Albert “Segvec” Gonzalez, 27, the sole accused in a U.S. jail, was a U.S. informant when perpetrating his lucrative crimes. He was supposed to identify fellow hackers, but he was really working both sides and tipping his fellow hackers off when the agency had them in their sights.
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