Computer Crime Research Center


Internet Extortion Foiled

Date: July 22, 2004
Source: The Moscow
By: Bernhard Warner and Oliver Bullough

Hard-pressed police forces have scored a significant victory in the battle against Internet crime by smashing a Russian extortion racket preying on British businesses and betting web sites.

A multinational investigation culminated with the arrest this week of the suspected ringleaders -- three men aged between 21 and 24, police said Wednesday. They were held after raids in St. Petersburg and the Saratov and Stavropol regions. Further arrests may be pending.

Police said the gang had unleashed digital attacks over the Internet on dozens of occasions.

"These were the main people behind the organization. They were coordinating it and laundering the money," said a source at the British Embassy in Moscow.

They are accused of threatening to shut businesses down with a massive barrage of data -- a denial-of-service attack -- if they did not pay up. The gang often demanded sums of $10,000 or $20,000 from owners of betting web sites and struck on the eve of big sporting events like Britain's Grand National horse race.

Protection rackets have sprung up over the past few years preying on e-commerce businesses of all sizes.

Investigators around the globe have been building a profile of the culprits -- typically, crooked programmers from Eastern Europe. But until now they have had little luck in tracking them.

The suspects are thought to be part of a larger group. Last November, police arrested 10 members of the group in Latvia -- a breakthrough that eventually led to this week's swoops, police said.

Following a complex trail of wire transfers and e-mail correspondence, police tracked the trio to their hometowns. One, a 21-year-old from the Saratov region, was a part-time student who worked in a computer shop.

"Two of the suspects were technically proficient. The third was the money man," said a spokeswoman from Britain's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit.

The three men could be charged under new federal computer crime and extortion legislation, officials said. The British police spokeswoman said it was unlikely Britain would seek extradition.

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