One of the things we count on from our federal government is protection against crime and wrongdoers, so when a criminal activity is spotted, we expect that it will be stopped and people will be “brought to justice.”
Not so fast, however, when it comes to stopping illegal online activity. A recent IDG News posting reports that the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation had to go to a judge and obtain a temporary restraining order allowing them to disrupt a computer virus that created an international botnet controlling more than 2.3 million computers as of early 2010, the DOJ announced.
A botnet (also known as a zombie army) is a collection of Internet-enabled computers that, unbeknownst to their owners, have been set up to forward transmissions (including spam or viruses) to other computers on the Internet, according to searchsecurity.techtarget.com.
The kicker, however, is that DOJ officials believe that this "Coreflood" botnet has been operating for nearly a decade, the posting says. That’s right: It’s been around for 10 years and nobody has done anything about it. And now, when we finally decide to address this significant threat, we have to get a court order to do it? Really? Seriously?
Other than suggesting that our system of justice is incredibly slow to respond (or perhaps unwilling to do so), why is this so important? Well, if it takes 10 years to recognize a threat, then it takes a court order to do anything about that threat, insurers and others who keep sensitive information on their systems need to be very afraid because, in essence, we are provided with no protection.
Coreflood, the posting notes, records computer keystrokes and other private communications. It steals user names, passwords and other private personal and financial information allegedly used by the defendants for a variety of criminal purposes, including stealing funds from the compromised accounts. Since such information commonly resides on insurance and financial services systems, this is indeed a disturbing development for our industry.
The Internet is all about instant gratification—or mortification. Crimes perpetrated through vehicles like botnets take seconds or parts of seconds to perpetrate. Imagine how much damage can be done while law enforcement officials tap their fingers on desktops waiting for a court’s permission to go out and do their jobs. Imagine how much more destruction may be wrought over a decade.
The posting also notes that the DOJ says they and the FBI have filed a civil lawsuit and delivered criminal seizure warrants in an effort to stop Coreflood and the botnet it has created. Servers have been seized, along with 29 domain names used by Coreflood. In addition, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Connecticut filed a civil complaint against 13 unnamed defendants, alleging that the defendants engaged in wire fraud, bank fraud and illegal interception of electronic communications.
Isn’t it great that when cyber-criminals strike, we can go after them—once a judge gives the okay? Isn’t it wonderful that we can then try to bring a civil action against them years down the road?
Maybe it’s just me, but I’d love to see our law enforcement officials react to crime at the same speed at which it is perpetrated. I’m sure someone thinks that the law demands a court order in this case, but if it does, then the law is indeed “an ass,” as Charles Dickens once wrote.
Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.
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