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FBI crackdown on botnets gets results, but damage continues

2 million zombies and counting

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FBI agents engaged in a crackdown on botnet crime issued a progress report of the ongoing initiative, reporting more than $20m in losses to consumers, businesses and other organizations and the identification of one million infected machines in the past five months.

In addition, eight individuals have been indicted, have pleaded guilty or been sentenced for crimes related to botnets since "Operation Bot Roast," as the ongoing investigation is known, was announced in June. Thirteen search warrants connected to the operation have been served in the US and overseas, and at least seven FBI field offices have participated.

Combined with the FBI's previous tally, federal investigators have now identified more than two million zombie computers, so called because they mindlessly follow the orders of their devious masters.

Bearing in mind that botnets are the Swiss Army Knives that enable a growing number of cyber criminals to thrive, it's easy to view federal law enforcement officials as the proverbial boy with a finger in the dike. But that would ignore a chief strategy that is likely to be core to the operation. The point is to chip away at the perception among miscreants that online crime is risk-free, as opposed to, say, robbing banks, where bad guys have to worry about getting shot at.

Among the eight individuals cited above is John Schiefer, an American computer security consultant who earlier this month admitted to using massive botnets to illegally install software on at least 250,000 machines, often from his place of employment. He faces a maximum sentence of 60 years in federal prison and a fine of $1.75m, according to documents filed Friday in federal court.

True, Schiefer is only one of an untold number of botmasters and that there's safety in numbers. But suddenly cyber crime doesn't look as risk free, particularly when you realize there is no time off for good behavior in the federal system.

Other individuals who have been identified over the past five months are:

  • Gregory King, 21 of California. As previously reported, he was recently indicted for allegedly using botnets to take down sites he didn't like.
  • Ryan Brett Goldstein, aka Digerati, 21, of Ambler, Pennsylvania. He was indicted earlier this month for allegedly using a botnet to attack internet relay chat operators and other targets he bore grudges against. He ran the attack from a major university, which sustained at least $5,000 in damage in the scheme, according to court documents.
  • Adam Sweaney, 27, of Tacoma Washington. He recently pleaded guilty to conspiracy for running a botnet of more than 100,000 computers that sent spam.
  • Robert Matthew Bentley, of Panama City, Florida. Earlier this week, he was indicted for his alleged involvement in running a botnet consisting of computers belonging to the Newell Rubbermaid corporation.
  • Alexander Dmitriyevich Paskalov, 38, from various US locations. Last month, he was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in federal prison for his role in a phishing scheme that resulted in multi-million dollar losses.
  • Azizbek Takhirovich Mamadjanov, 21, of Florida. A cohort of Paskalov, he received two years in prison.
  • Jason Michael Downey, 24, of Kentucky. He recently received a year in prison, followed by probation, restitution and community service, for running a large botnet to conduct distributed denial of service attacks. ®

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