Will Cybercrime Arrests Be a Deterrent?International Bust of $14M Scheme Is Drop in Cybercrime Bucket
This week's arrest of six suspects linked to a two-year international cybercrime investigation known as Operation Ghost Click is being touted as one of the biggest Internet crime scheme takedowns in history. [See 6 Nabbed in Global Internet Scam.]
On Tuesday, authorities in the United States and Estonia shut down the scam, which over a three-year period infected more than 4 million computers with malware and generated at least $14 million in fraudulent advertising fees.
David Navetta, founder of the Information Law Group and an attorney who specializes in IT security and privacy, says the bust represents a significant victory for law enforcement. International law-enforcement cooperation is improving. A similar bust over the summer, which led to the takedown of an underground crime ring in Ukraine, shut down a scheme that resulted in bank fraud losses that totaled $72 million over a three-year period.
"This is a significant victory for law enforcement, and they should be applauded for the time, effort and attention to detail that it must have taken to bring this crime ring down," Navetta says.
But long-term, Navetta questions what impact, if any, the bust in Estonia will have on deterring future cybercrimes. "While this group was caught, how many other groups exist out there that will never get caught?" he asks. "The technical and legal complexities of these investigations and takedowns are enormous, and while it is important to score victories like this, is it really making an impact?"
Can CyberCrimes be Stopped?
Navetta likens the war on cybercrime to the war the U.S. government and law enforcement waged on drugs in the 1980s. "There, too, you had big, high profile busts," he says. "But, overall, the drugs kept flowing."
In the Operation Ghost Click bust, the U.S. Justice Department, says it believes the malware used by the Estonia cyberattackers infected computers in 100 countries, including 500,000 in the United States. Once infected, the defendants digitally hijacked Internet searches and re-routed computers to certain websites and advertisements, which entitled the defendants to be paid.
The malware also prevented anti-virus installations and operating system updates, so infected computers became slaves to the malware.
Avivah Litan, a distinguished fraud and security analyst at Gartner, says given the severity of security breach and the sophistication of the malware, this takedown is very encouraging. The collaboration between and the technical skills among the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies to track the attack is promising for the industry.
"This type of pharming attack (local control of DNS address lookups), along with ad-based malware, has been known and talked about for years," Litan says. "But it's still somewhat shocking to learn about such a large scale operation that combined these high-tech criminal techniques, which was so well organized and successful, at least at the beginning."
The bust may not deter future attacks, but it does prove investigators and the investigations they launch into cybercrimes are getting more sophisticated. "It should give us all a much stronger sense of security that the good guys can, in fact, beat the bad guys at their own high-stakes, high-tech games."
Dave Jevans, chairman of the Anti-Phishing Working Group, an international consortium of law-enforcement agencies and Internet security providers, says Operation Ghost Click illustrates how partnerships between private security companies, government and law enforcement can make strides toward improving Internet security.
"Trend Micro spent years investigating these cybercriminals, and worked effectively with the FBI and international police to result in an arrest of criminals who were exploiting the computers of 4 million unwitting consumers and businesses," Jevans says. "This success was celebrated this week in San Diego, Calif., at the APWG's annual cybercrime conference."
Jevans says most consumers are clueless when it comes to the enormity of international cyberattacks. "Cybercrime affects tens of millions of people per year. With improved collaboration between security companies and global law enforcement, we hope that we can curtail the growth of online crime," he says