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U.S. still worries over hacker havens
Published: 2008-04-11

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- While U.S. law enforcement has received aid when pursuing criminal investigations in countries long considered to be hacker havens, the battle is not over, two U.S. prosecutors told attendees at the RSA Security Conference on Friday.

During a presentation on the U.S. Department of Justice's battle with online money laundering sites, two prosecutors with the DOJ's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) outlined recent successes in pursuing the operators of sites (corrected) that allow the transfer of digital cash outside of U.S. banking rules. In 2007, U.S. agents arrested two men who operated Neteller, an Isle of Man company that allows customers -- an estimated 85 percent of which were U.S. residents -- to transfer funds to online gambling sites against U.S. law. In another case, the government indicted West Indies-headquartered E-Gold, its parent company and the firms' three principal owners on charges related to money laundering.

However, other digital-cash businesses have dodged U.S. attempts to force them to hew to the nation's laws. DOJ agents' efforts to recruit their Russian counterparts in investigating digital-cash company WebMoney have so far not elicited much aid, said Howard Cox, assistant deputy chief for CCIPS.

"Our hopes are that, at some point, we can bring Russia on board with these cybercriminal investigations," Cox said. "In the past, we had written off Russia and Romania (thinking) we would never get cooperation from them."

Cox pointed to a recent operation resulting in the arrest of eleven Romanians suspected of identity theft in a combined U.S.-Romanian operation last November and previous operations as a sign of success and the impact that government pressure can have on another country's stance on cybercrime. Romania has signed and ratified the Council of Europe's Convention on Cybercrime, while Russia has not.

The United States has beefed up its assault on cybercrime, expanding the core group of CCIPS prosecutors to 30 attorneys, from 10 people in 2000. Using diplomatic pressure to gain cooperation from countries that had become havens for illegal online activity is part of a set of recommendations (pdf) released last year by the President's Identity Theft Task Force.

One thing is for certain, DOJ attorney Kimberly Kiefer Peretti told attendees: As long as there are havens, new businesses will crop up to replace the old ones.

"Criminals don't care if anything is backing up the currency that they use as long as they can put cash in at one end and get cash out at the other end," Peretti said.

CORRECTION: The wording in the original article could have been read to imply that certain digital-cash sites had been shut down. The sites mentioned in the article continue to operate.

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Posted by: Robert Lemos
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