From Russia Without Love

Carl Weinschenk

This piece, which ran in The New York Times Week in Review section, raises an interesting point that often is overlooked. The Internet is a borderless network that is largely impervious to government administration. For that reason, illegal or unscrupulous activity that is the norm in one country can infect the global online community.


The most glaring example is Russia, which is a hotbed of cyber criminality. This includes scams of every sort and most likely, attacks this spring on Estonian governmental websites by hackers upset about the removal of a World War II memorial from a public square in Tallinn, the capital.


The affinity for such activity -- particularly the scams aimed at making money -- is a product of the long Russian tradition of paying little heed to laws and regulation. They are considered to be tools of exploitation and control and are poorly enforced, the story says. This attitude is a feature of Russia life. Instead of earning a living wage, for instance, people are paid low salaries with the expectation that they will finagle what they need through a variety of under-the-table maneuvers. In the Internet age, these evasions easily are exported. Indeed, the writer points out that a source of much online criminality now is Brighton Beach, in Brooklyn, New York. This is the first stop in America for many Russian immigrants.


This story in The Washington Post validates how dire the situation is in Russia. The story says that an Internet business in St. Petersburg called The Russian Business Network is a hub of criminal online activity, including child pornography, spamming and ID theft. Indeed, the story says that about one-half of phishing incidents last year used the organization's computers.


The piece describes a process for getting in touch with the group that sounds like an online version of a back alley criminal rendezvous. The group has no website.Those wishing to make contact must use instant messaging or "obscure, Russian-language" forums. Commentary in the story echoes the New York Times' piece in its opinion that cybercrime thrives in nations with lower regard for the law.


Interpol, an international crime-fighting agency, certainly sees the dimensions of the problem. Last month, the organization suggested that global and regional cybercrime centers should be established to respond quickly to online emergencies. The organization is based in France and has 186 member countries. The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that the Secretary-General of Interpol said cybercrime is too great for the G-8 or the Council of Europe to handle alone. The proposed centers would coordinate training, investigations and information management on cyber criminality.


A related threat in the modern, borderless world is cyber-terrorism. This writer at Online Legal Info lays out the problem and makes suggestions on how to curb it. The ideas are good and certainly can help stop hackers and scam artists. The writer says that companies need to determine their level of risk and identify their vulnerabilities. They should run tests and deploy a layered, defense in-depth security strategy. It is important to backup data regularly and store it off-site. Companies should change passwords often, delete questionable e-mails, limit access to computers and other resources, and keep security software up to date.


It will be impossible to stop attacks from the outer reaches of the Internet. What could help experts, however, is a keen awareness of where attacks are most likely to come from. This will make help them more effectively fight the bad guys and enable them to work reach out to local officials.

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