Hacker's extradition for cyber heist: sign US is gaining in cyber crime fight
US investigators may be gaining ground in the fight against international cyber crime. Recent extradition of an alleged hacker from Estonia is latest victory in prosecuting such cases.
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"We are very much in agreement with our partners that it's more important to hold them accountable for their actions no matter where it is," he says. "It's not always necessary to extradite them to the US."Skip to next paragraph
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That new flexibility comes after some early failures trying to extradite suspects by using complex multilateral partnerships to lasso cyber criminals, security experts say. Now, however, the FBI's pursuit of close bilateral ties is starting to pay off. The FBI now has embassy operations in 61 nations, up from about 40 a decade ago. In four cases – the Netherlands, Slovenia, Romania, and Estonia – the bureau has specially trained agents working closely with local authorities.
"I sat down four years ago with authorities on this side of the world, but it was impossible to get much done," says Chris Roberts, a Briton who is now managing partner of OneWorld Labs in Golden, Colo., a cyber security firm. "Our hands were tied."
That's changed, he says. US authorities are now more zealous about following up on initial investigative work by private firms like his – as well as sharing information about cyber threats with investigators abroad.
"You've got to give credit to the FBI and Secret Service, because those guys are helping educate people about the threat," Mr. Roberts says. "When someone gets hit over here, and we find the signs pointing back to this or that group overseas, they follow up."
Shifts in tactics have helped government investigators, too, says Don Jackson, a forensic cyber expert with SecureWorks, an Atlanta-based computer security firm. The FBI, he says, has begun "carefully privatizing some aspects of the investigation." It has also moved to mirror its cyber adversaries.
"They used to collect cyber cases and assign them to a field office," he says. "Now they seem to be moving toward assigning them to a virtual field office. That's the way cyber crime is moving. It's not Russian or Estonian, it's an international conference of cyber hackers."
Numbers are tough to come by to corroborate US authorities' assertion that they are making gains. Arrests in cases of cyber intrusion are up 300 percent in the past decade, an FBI spokesman says. However, criminal attacks soared from 231,493 complaints and $183 million reported stolen then to 335,655 complaints and $560 million lost now.
In the RBS WorldPay scam, the indictment alleges that Oleg Covelin, residing in Moldova, discovered a vulnerability, or "bug," in the RBS WorldPay network. He then disclosed it to Tsurikov in Estonia, who reverse-engineered the encryption to discover the PIN numbers for the cards. Viktor Pleshchuk, a Russian national who is alleged to be a key player in the plot, entered the bank's network and manipulated data – including raising the limits on the prepaid payroll cards. Mr. Pleschuk and Mr. Covelin are in the custody of Russia's FSB security police, according to the Baltic Times. The disposition of a fourth conspirator dubbed "Hacker 3" is not publicly known.
Tsurikov and any others who get extradited to the US each face 16 counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and computer fraud, and aggravated identity theft. They are looking at fines of up to $3.5 million plus recovery of the $9.4 million. Each wire fraud count could result in as many as 20 years in prison.
To security experts, however, such victories only hint at the greater problem.
"My optimistic side says it's great that they've got more cooperation going, and that they managed to get some of these people who stole $9 million is really nice," says Roberts, the Colorado security expert. "My pessimistic side says, 'Yeah, but what about the other $5 billion that was stolen?' "