Tech crime blotter: February's top 15 stories

Microsoft’s Conficker bounty, FBI’s "swatting" warning and more

A look back at the month’s biggest technology stories involving alleged and actual crimes, including Microsoft putting a bounty on the head of the Conficker worm authors and the FBI warning about "swatting"

A look back at the month's biggest technology stories involving alleged and actual crimes, and crime-related issues:

FBI warns on latest in phone phreaking: swatting

The FBI issued a warning this month that the practice of swatting – that is making phony 911 calls about hostage or other sensitive situations designed to elicit responses from SWAT teams – is on the rise. The FBI says that perpetrators typically “swat” as an ego boost and do it because they can, but that the situation can endanger the lives of emergency response personnel and victims of the scams.

The FBI says it is working with telecom companies to try to sniff out swatting calls better.

Microsoft puts out bounty for Conficker creators

Microsoft is trying to put some pressure on the criminals responsible for the worst Internet worm outbreak in years, offering a $250,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Conficker's creators. The software vendor said it was also working with security researchers, domain name registrars and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to try to take down the servers that have been launching the Conficker attacks.

Meanwhile, the criminals behind Conficker have released a new version of the malware – B++ -- that could signal a major shift in the way the worm operates. It uses new techniques to download software, giving its creators more flexibility in what they can do with infected machines. 

2008's biggest tech crime stories

FTC says identity theft rules among consumer complaints

For the ninth year in a row identity theft - particularly in Arizona and California -- was the number one consumer complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission in 2008. The FTC reported this month that of 1,223,370 complaints received in 2008, 313,982 - or 26%- were related to identity theft. 

Crooks embrace Skype

The Italian police force is the latest law enforcement outfit to complain that Skype's VoIP service is being used by crooks to circumvent wiretaps, according to the BBC. According to one source, a drug trafficker was heard to recommend Skype as a way to elude authorities. Skype uses a strong encryption scheme that the company considers to be a trade secret.

MySpace boots 90K sex offenders

The social networking site reported in February that it had rid itself of 90,000 identified sex offenders and sexual predators (not that these people have necessarily committed crimes through the sites). MySpace and Facebook have agreed to adhere to strict laws designed to protect children and other users of their sites. 

Fugitive hacker nailed for VoIP scam

Computerworld reported earlier this month that a recently nabbed fugitive was indicted by a federal grand jury for breaking into VoIP service providers' computer networks: “Edwin Pena had been arrested in June 2006 on computer and wire fraud charges. The U.S. government charged that Pena and a cohort hacked into the computer networks from November 2004 to May 2006. Pena then resold the VoIP services to his own customers.”

Software pirate gets prison time, loses Ferrari

A 24-year-old Texas man has been sentenced to 41 months in prison for selling counterfeit software on about 40 Web sites, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Timothy Kyle Dunaway of Wichita Falls, Texas, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas for selling counterfeit software with a retail value of more than $1 million, the DOJ said. Judge Reed O'Connor also sentenced Dunaway to pay more than $810,000 in restitution and turn over a Ferrari 348 TB and a Rolex watch he purchased with money from counterfeit software sales.

Alleged LCD price fixers indicted

Three more executives were indicted for their alleged roles in an LCD price-fixing scheme, the U.S. Department of Justice said. The indictment follows recent guilty pleas from four other executives involved in the same conspiracy who agreed to pay tens of thousands of dollars and serve jail time. The new charges allege that Cheng Yuan Lin, Chunghwa's former chairman and CEO; Wen Jun Cheng, who was assistant vice president of sales and marketing for Chunghwa; and Duk Mo Koo, formerly executive vice president and chief sales officer for LG, tried to harm competition by fixing the price of TFT-LCDs. The panels are used in computer monitors, laptops, TVs and mobile phones. 

Verizon marketing tactics ruled illegal

An appeals court judge agreed with an earlier Federal Communications Commission ruling that found Verizon used illegal tactics in trying to retain phone customers who decide to switch to another service provider. Bright House Networks, Comcast and Time Warner filed the initial complaint against Verizon, arguing that the operator runs afoul of the Telecommunications Act when it contacts customers to offer them incentives to stay rather than switch operators. 

Spammers, phishers exploit Valentine's Day, poor economy

Security companies warned that spammers in February took aim at those too in love to realize they were being duped by Valentine's Day-related spam and those too down in the dumps to realize they were being targeted with recession-related spam. "February saw the spammers pulling at both the heart and the purse strings with the emphasis on Valentine's Day and the global recession. Although spam levels declined slightly this month, the level of activity around Valentine's themed spam reached unprecedented highs accounting for nine per cent of all spam messages," said Paul Wood, MessageLabs Intelligence senior analyst, Symantec. "With the financial crisis front of mind for many organisations and consumers, spammers and phishers are using this topic to their advantage and targeting people when times are tough."

Accused rogue admin Terry Childs makes his case

He's been in jail for seven months now, but former San Francisco network administrator Terry Childs says he's going to keep fighting to prove he's innocent of computer crime charges. Childs was arrested on July 12, charged with disrupting the city of San Francisco's Wide Area Network during a tense standoff with management.

In his first interview since the arrest, given earlier this month, Childs contended that he did nothing illegal while working for the city and argued that his actions, depicted as criminal by prosecutors, were in line with standard network security practices. Even though it went against the orders of his supervisors, Childs was doing his job by refusing to hand over the passwords to a roomful of people, his attorney Richard Shikman argues in the filings. "The response to suspend him was arguably legal. The response to prosecute him is not," he wrote. If he had to do it all over again, Childs said he would have given up the passwords. "I'd have gotten out before it came to this," he said. "I have a great house ... and I'm on the verge of losing it since I'm in here. I'm out of a job, and don't know what'll happen with all this."

Ex-Qwest chief's conviction reinstated

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the conviction of ex- Qwest Communications chief Joe Nacchio on $52 million in illegal stock sales.  His insider trader convictions had been overturned last March after it was ruled he was tried unfairly because a witness was wrongly not allowed. 

Last call: Anheuser-Busch IT guy tossed into prison for computer theft

An ex-IT consultant for Anheuser-Busch got 18 months in prison and was ordered to pay $377,000 in restitution for swiping nearly $400,000 worth of the beer giant's computer gear.

According to court documents, between July 2006 and January 31, 2008, Jack Walter Barrett worked on site as an information technology consultant at the Anheuser-Busch Companies in St. Louis. Barrett had access to the brewery's technology infrastructure as part of his work there and began to steal expensive computer hardware from Anheuser-Busch, which he took home, the Department of Justice said.

FBI: Online employment scams on the rise

The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center warned that anyone looking for a job on-line needs to be particularly vigilant against growing work-at-home scams.

The IC3 said it continues to receive numerous complaints from individuals who have fallen victim to the scammers. Often hired to "process payments", "transfer funds" or "reship products" scammers involve the victims receiving and cashing fraudulent checks, transferring illegally obtained funds for the criminals, or receiving stolen merchandise and shipping it to the criminals, the IC3 stated.

Treasury Department's crime fighting arm cited for lax security

Data used to fight money-laundering and funding for terrorists is at risk because of significant security weaknesses within the networks used by a crime-fighting arm of the U.S. Treasury Department, according to a government study.

The U.S. General Accounting Office cites lax authentication and access controls, inadequate encryption, insufficient firewalling and inconsistent logging of database activity as problems that the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) needs to address.

As a result of the problems found, the confidentiality, integrity and availability of sensitive data is at risk, the GAO says in a recently issued report, "Futher Actions Needed to Address Risks to Bank Secrecy Act Data."

IDG News Service contributed to this story

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