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04:31 PM

Lock 'Em Up!

It's only through this kind of successful enforcement effort that there's even a chance of stemming the tide. Kudos--and many thanks--to the federal, state, local, and international law-enforcement personnel involved.

Good news on the anti-crime front: more spammers, phishers, and other rippers-off of little old ladies are getting caught and going to jail.Recent enforcement efforts include:

- Six more people pleaded guilty on charges related to the so-called "Shadowcrew" scam operation that investigators say was one of the largest phishing rings ever. The operation had about 4,000 members who dealt with at least 1.5 million stolen credit card numbers and caused more than $4 million in losses, federal prosecutors said.

- Peter Moshu of Florida, the so-called Timeshare Spammer, was found guilty of sending millions of unsolicited e-mails that tried to pry personal information by offering brokerage services for people interested in selling their timeshare vacation homes. For his trouble, he's getting a year in federal prison and will have to pay $120,000.

- The U.K.'s "Weaselboy" spammer--don't you just love these names?-- was sentenced to six years in prison. The 23-year-old sold bogus domain names and threatened to kill anyone who tried to shut down his scam. Moreover, the loser also put his own family at risk; he operated all this out of his dad's house. Businesses that complained about his actions were flooded with millions of spam messages in retaliation, and he even threatened police.

- In perhaps the most serious of the recent cases, the U.K. is extraditing an alleged cyberterrorist back to the United States. The suspect is accused of operating a fundraising Web site for Islamic militants and encouraging them to wage holy war in Afghanistan and Chechnya between 1999 and 2003.

It's only through this kind of successful enforcement effort that there's even a chance of stemming the tide. Kudos--and many thanks--to the federal, state, local, and international law-enforcement personnel involved, and for the cooperation and other behind-the-scenes efforts that are inevitably required to make these kinds of charges stick. The most notorious offenders are removed from bothering the rest of us for however long they're in jail. Most important, it sends a powerful message to others engaging in this type of anti-social and illegal behavior that, just maybe, they'll be caught and prosecuted and have to do some real time, too.

It's my fondest hope that these fellows go to a federal prison with the likes of the scariest criminals of the bunch, and not to some white-collar "country club" with a garden and workout room. Maybe that will 'scare them straight' enough to leave the rest of us alone.

But there's more than retribution needed, of course. While in jail, maybe these offenders can be taught actual useful and needed skills for when they re-enter society. Something that doesn't involve computers; I think the world has plenty of 'ethical hackers,' including some formerly bad people who were caught and are now using their powers for good.

When the spammers and phishers are in jail, they might be able to get their hands on at least one computer-related device, if the vendor involved has its way. A new RFID-enabled phone is being offered to correctional facilities for pre-paid or direct-bill telephone service geared toward inmates, to automatically identify and bill the caller.

Please let that be the last computer-related anything these guys touch. After they've done their time or while they're on parole, these folks should be prohibited from picking up a keyboard or mouse for, say, five years. We don't allow convicted securities traders back on Wall Street, do we? Well, maybe we do--but we shouldn't.

In the meantime, here's a longer-term approach to security I'm hoping that more universities will adopt. This coming weekend, Iowa State University will host a hacking competition for its students, who are charged with protecting and defending a business-oriented network from threats. A team of volunteers from the IT security community will act as 'hackers' and do their utmost to get into the network. Best of all, the whole thing occurs in a state-of-the-art security facility funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.

As of this writing, the contest hadn't yet taken place--but I'm rooting for the students, of course. Because that's really our best long-term strategy, to train these upcoming IT security professionals more thoroughly than ever, and to teach them how to think like the bad guys. Training is our best bet.

Speaking of training, seems like that is what's needed to tackle a related security issue--that of, um, intellectually challenged employees. Two stories plumb this field: one about employees unknowingly sending risky e-mail messages that can do some serious legal damage to their employers, and another is about office workers stealing supplies. You might want to keep an eye on your pencils and Post-It notes.

Now, I'm not accusing anyone here, nor am I suggesting for a minute that I'm not as stupid as the next person. It is, after all, a fundamental American right to be a moron from time to time, right up there with life and liberty and all that. And without divulging anything too specific, I'll just say right up front that I've more than exercised my fundamental freedoms.

But really… stealing office supplies and sending possibly litigious e-mail? The first isn't a security threat, admittedly, unless the employees involved are handing the filched paper clips out to terrorists. (It was just too good a story to pass up.)

As for the second, however, that most definitely is something that IT personnel can help educate their peers about, with the help of the corporate legal department. It's a great opportunity to be pro-active about an issue that the business people care deeply about, even if they don't know they do.

What are you thinking about IT security issues these days? Share your thoughts below.It's only through this kind of successful enforcement effort that there's even a chance of stemming the tide. Kudos--and many thanks--to the federal, state, local, and international law-enforcement personnel involved.

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