“Follow the money,” the mysterious Deep Throat famously urges Bob Woodward in All the President’s Men. “Always follow the money.”
It is sage advice that investigative journalists and law enforcement authorities have been following for generations to ferret out criminal activity. And by the same token, cutting off the flow of money to a criminal enterprise is a tried and true way of shutting it down. Indeed, law enforcement authorities this summer have ably demonstrated how closing the financial spigot can be an especially effective tactic in combating online software piracy.
As security blogger Brian Krebs has detailed, authorities have at least temporarily disrupted the highly profitable fake antivirus racket by tying up its finances so that websites hawking the bogus software can’t pay their advertisers. Researchers have pointed to a number of banks in particular that have been enabling the underground economy of fake antivirus software.
The US Justice Department and FBI, along with international law enforcement partners, are to be commended for jumping into the fray and seizing computers, servers and bank accounts belonging to a ring of cyber criminals who were scaring people into buying fake antivirus software and then stealing their credit card numbers in what amounted to a $72 million shakedown.
Policy-makers should study this episode carefully and consider how to create new and better legal tools for enforcement authorities to keep these software piracy enterprises from being able to conduct business. Otherwise, the hacker gangs behind them will be the ones laughing all the way to bank.