War on cyber-criminals intensifies

1 Dec 2003

A man has been arrested in Spain for allegedly writing the Raleka-A virus. The 23-year-old from Madrid is the first to be charged with such a crime in the country. The virus hit computers world-wide in August 2003 and is reported to have infected an estimated 120,000 computers in a two week period.

The man is believed to the leader of a hacking group, Akelarre, where he went under the alias 900K. The virus itself is almost a precursor to the Blaster worm, which brought havoc to email systems in August by using a Microsoft security hole to allow the hacker to gain control of the machine.

The arrest is seen as a further strike in the war against virus writers. The war stepped up a gear recently when Microsoft, the US Secret Service, the FBI and Interpol announced the creation of a special fund to provide reward money to aid in the conviction of worm writers. Of an initial input of US$5m dollars, US$250,000 per worm has been assigned as bounty to whoever finds out the authors of MSBlast and SoBig.

Conall Lavery, managing director with Irish security company Entropy, believes that virus writers are currently getting more police attention and with Microsoft’s bounty scheme to back them up, the criminals might want to think twice before writing a virus.

Rewards are becoming a more popular method to help in the aid of capturing computer criminals. Wells Fargo offered a US$100,000 reward for information, which would lead to the arrest and conviction of the criminals who stole a machine containing a sensitive customer database. However in the end it was police work which led to the arrest of California man Edward Jonathan Krastof. Krastof was arrested for stealing computers containing the personal information of thousands of Wells Fargo customers.

Police traced Krastof after he logged onto his AOL account using one of the stolen computers. Data on the computer included names, addresses, account and social security numbers for people holding overdrafts or loans with Wells Fargo.

Further victories against cyber-criminals were revealed by US attorney general John Ashcroft in November when he announced at a press briefing that 125 suspects have been arrested in a crackdown on internet crimes ranging from hacking to fraud and selling stolen goods.

He told the news conference that a seven-week sweep involved police from Ghana to Southern California and uncovered 125,000 victims who had lost more than US$100m. Those arrested stand charged with a variety of crimes that highlight the innumerable scams and criminal acts that now take place online.

A similar cyber crime sweep in the first half of the year led to 135 arrests.

Europe too is stepping up it actions in the on-going war. A European high-tech crime unit is to launch in January. The agency, dubbed the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), will co-ordinate information sharing between European member states on cyber-crime issues.

ENISA will work with business and the public to minimise the effects of viruses, hacking and online surveillance, and collaborate with industry to promote more constant security standards.

The tide may be turning in the war against cyber crime.

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