xperts agree that the most effective way to defeat the current onslaught of technology-related attacks would be to dismantle the economics that back them up.
On Sept. 13, a Moroccan court handed out short-term jail sentences to two college-age malware code writers found guilty of launching the Zotob worm virus in August 2005. The conviction of the two young men—along with the pursuit of other virus writers who take down computer networks for the sake of it—highlights law enforcement officials' ability to trace the roots of such attacks. Still, law enforcement officials, consumer advocates and security researchers concede they are making little progress in tracing the finances of those individuals who are using IT-based crimes to make a profit.
While attacks such as Zotob cripple productivity on computer networks around the world, most technology experts say that a more serious threat is current money-thieving schemes that attack corporate infrastructure and lurk on the Internet. As criminals have shifted their activity from scattershot attacks on IT infrastructure to targeted fraud leveled at specific businesses and individuals, they have become even harder to track down.
And although laws that force businesses to disclose data breaches are shedding light on those incidents, there is likely an epidemic of unreported computer crimes that involve the theft of cold, hard cash, said David Marcus, security research manager at software maker McAfee.
However, even in the adware and spyware arenas, there remain serious impediments to following and stemming the money stream, experts say. In some cases, the lax enforcement of standards used to determine the legitimacy of online advertisers by major technology companies—including search giant Yahoo and Internet phone software maker Vonage—is helping to sustain the adware and spyware sectors, researchers contend.
Those companies are guilty of feeding the finances of the malware industry by dealing with companies such as Intermix and Direct Revenue, another company pursued by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer for distributing adware and spyware, said Ben Edelman, an attorney and IT security researcher, in Cambridge, Mass.
"If these large companies agreed to cooperate and shut down the networks of adware makers, that could be of significant help, but it's not happened," said Edelman. "In general, the money trail is still very hard to follow because the players have become significantly more sophisticated at ways of hiding what they're doing and how they're doing it."
Consumer advocates agree that the outlook for cutting off finances to stop technology-based crime remains bleak, with the only real beacon of hope being the ability to fight companies that straddle the lines of legality in the adware space.
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