Microsoft leads raids on criminal hackers


Digital forensic examiners: J-Michael Roberts and Ashim Kapur

Microsoft employees, accompanied by United States marshals, raided two nondescript office buildings in Pennsylvania and Illinois on Friday, aiming to disrupt one of the most pernicious forms of online crime today — botnets, or groups of computers that help harvest bank account passwords and other personal information from millions of other computers.

With a warrant in hand from a federal judge authorizing the sweep, the Microsoft lawyers and technical personnel gathered evidence and deactivated Web servers ostensibly used by criminals in a scheme to infect computers and steal personal data. At the same time, Microsoft seized control of hundreds of Web addresses that it says were used as part of the same scheme…

Microsoft’s involvement in what had been considered largely a law enforcement function — fighting computer crime — is the brainchild of Richard Boscovich, a former federal prosecutor who is a senior lawyer in Microsoft’s digital crimes unit. That group watches over fraud that could affect the company’s products and reputation…

On Friday, Microsoft was attacking its most complex target yet, known as the Zeus botnets. The creators of Zeus offer their botnet code for sale to others and, depending on the level of customer support and customization of the code that clients require, charge them $700 to $15,000 for the software, Microsoft said in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Brooklyn on March 19.

That, in turn, has resulted in many variants of Zeus botnets, making them harder to combat. Most of them are aimed at perpetrating various financial scams against online victims. Mr. Boscovich of Microsoft said he had a “high degree of confidence” that the unnamed culprits behind Zeus were in Eastern Europe…

Microsoft does not believe the operators of the facilities it raided on Friday, which rent space to clients on computers connected to the Internet, are in league with the people behind the botnets. And those operators said they had no idea that equipment inside their facilities was being used to issue commands to Zeus…

Mr. Boscovich said he did not think the Friday sweep would be as big a blow to Zeus as Microsoft’s previous actions against botnets, but he said it was just the beginning of actions aimed at raising the cost of doing business for the botnet’s masterminds. “The plan is to disrupt, disrupt, disrupt,” he said.

This may not be a giant arrest; but, folks I know in banking and finance IT applauded the effort. Even when firms are diligent enough to succeed at keeping these cruds out of their system – out of their clients’ systems – they still are a distraction from doing ordinary business as usual. Useless thugs.

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