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US Feds can hack overseas boxes – judge

It's sleazy, not illegal

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The Feds have as much right to be creeps as anyone else, a US judge has ruled in connection with a motion filed by busted Russian computer enthusiast Vasily Gorshkov.

The resourceful Gorshkov, we may recall, is charged with breaking into numerous networks and downloading credit card details with associate Alexey Ivanov, and then attempting to extort money from the victims for 'security services' which would eliminate the holes exploited during the attacks.

The FBI lured the two to the US by posing as representatives of the fictional 'Invita' security firm, and offering the dynamic duo good jobs if they could prove their skills.

Of course the Feds set up a box rigged with a key logger and then set the pair to work demonstrating their amazing prowess. When they accessed their machines back home, the Feds recorded the login info, and later returned to root the boxes.

US District Judge John Coughenour ruled that during the demonstration, Gorshkov would not have had any expectation of privacy, as he would have known that "the systems administrator could and likely would monitor his activities."

Fair enough. There's no question that anything Gorshkov did on the test box was up for grabs. But using information so gleaned to access a machine on foreign soil seems a separate issue, which the judge in this case declined to recognize.

The defendant argued that the Feds violated Russian law when they searched the contents of his remote machine. We don't know, but we rather think they violated Russian sovereignty at any rate.

However, the judge ruled that Russian law doesn't apply to American agents, and left it at that.

But surely, if the machines were located in Russia, then the US agents searching them were, in some virtual sense, also located in Russia. At a minimum they owed the Russian authorities the courtesy of a heads up and perfunctory request for permission to proceed.

Coughenour's decision suggests that it's fine for agents in one country to rely on their own laws when poking around in computers located off shore -- a most disturbing precedent.

Meanwhile, Gorshkov's trial has been scheduled to commence on 17 September. As his defense has been pretty well gutted before the fact, we don't expect it to last very long, or offer any surprises. ®

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