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Facebook donates cash seized from spammers to cyber CSI lab

Ill-gotten $250k for Koobface, GhostClick takedown team

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Facebook has donated $250k it seized from spammers to an academic centre of excellence in the fight against cybercrime.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham's Center for Information Assurance and Joint Forensics Research will use the cash to build an expanded version of the faculty, due to open next year. The centre helped researchers at Facebook to track down the infamous Koobface gang and helped to unravel the even more notorious GhostClick (DNSChanger) scam, among other work.

Notable researchers at the centre include Gary Warner, Director of Research in Computer Forensics and co-chair of Anti-Phishing Working Group. Warner also runs the well read CyberCrime & Doing Time blog.

"As a result of numerous collaborations over the years, Facebook recognizes the center as both a partner in fighting Internet abuse, and as a critical player in developing future experts who will become dedicated cybersecurity professionals," says Joe Sullivan, chief security officer at Facebook, in a statement. "The center has earned this gift for their successes in fighting cybercrime and because of the need for formal cybersecurity education to better secure everyone’s data across the world."

The donation itself will be widely applauded in security circles even though the Koobface investigation remains controversial. In January 2012, the New York Times publicly named five people security researchers have fingered as prime suspects in the spread of the Koobface worm, a strain of malware that has bedevilled social networking users (particularly on Facebook) since late 2008. Koobface, which was unusually sophisticated, earned scammers income principally through pay-per-install malware.

Critics argue that the disclosure was premature and served only to tip off the suspects, who subsequently went to ground. Whatever the truth of that, no arrests or lawsuits have been filed as a result of the investigation. ®

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