The WashBiz Guest Blog: Chasing Internet Crooks

Welcome to Day 4 of our little experiment in guest blogging, something we hope captures a small slice of Washington at work. All this week we plan to run posts from Adam Palmer, policy counsel for .ORG, the Public Interest Registry based in Reston. Adam works on policy issues dealing with Internet governance, cybersecurity, and e-commerce. Today, he talks about his work on cybersecurity.

By Adam Palmer

On Thursday I had the chance to focus on one of the most interesting parts of my job -- working collaboratively with Internet companies and law enforcement to create a safe and secure Internet.

At 9:30 a.m., I met with the FBI and other Internet industry members at Arlington-based Cyveillance Inc.. Cyveillance clients include some of the biggest global corporations. Cyveillance uses technology to scan the Internet for criminal schemes and brand abuse issues. Intelligence analysts at Cyveillance review the collected data and report it to both law enforcement and their clients. About six months ago, I persuaded Cyveillance to provide some of their data about criminal activity to law enforcement as a pro bono free community service.

Recently, Cyveillance discovered what appear to be "choke points" of criminal activity on the Internet. This is incredibly significant because it suggests that there are a relatively small number of bad actors that account for a large number of bad acts on the Internet. We are beginning to realize that rather than having thousands of separate criminals, we may have small groups of criminals involved in thousands of different activities. If we can target these criminal "choke points" then we can make a big difference in safety across the Internet.

One of the key concerns for .ORG in working with law enforcement is protecting personal privacy. We want to help catch the bad guys, but also not police the Internet or become a form of Big Brother always monitoring online activity. It is a delicate balance. I spent several hours during the morning discussing how we can cooperate effectively. I have great hopes we can do it, and that it will make a big difference in the safety of the Internet.

Following my meeting with the FBI at Cyveillance, I go straight into a high-level discussion about a new Internet threat called "fast flux". Fast flux is a very complex technical concept that basically involves a method of hiding your Internet address. Some uses of fast flux are for hiding important legitimate secret computers--for example a top-secret government computer connected to the Internet. Unfortunately, many criminals also know that fast flux can make it difficult for law enforcement to track them.

Internet security is a technology arms race. The better we get at tracking criminals, the more sophisticated the criminals become. It is largely a myth that most computer criminals are some geeky genius kid in a basement somewhere. The criminals we face today online are more often organized criminal gangs with incredible resources, networks, and highly sophisticated capabilities. Catching these criminals and keeping the Internet safe is a difficult job. But it must be done to ensure the continued stability and use of the Internet. If people don't trust the Internet to be safe then, they won't use it.

Read the rest of Adam's posts here.

By Dan Beyers  |  August 1, 2008; 9:00 AM ET  | Category:  Adam Palmer
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