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Report: US government plans legal assault on foreign hackers

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The US is planning a legal assault on the international hacking community and the companies – and governments – that use IP stolen from America.

John Carlin, the principal deputy assistant attorney general in the US Department of Justice’s national security division told Defense News that the DOJ was training over 100 special prosecutors who would work with a variety of government departments, including the FBI, Homeland Security, and NSA.

The unit, dubbed the National Security Cyber Specialist (NSCS) network, will mine the database of hacking research the federal organizations have carried out and identify suitable targets for a legal barrage. Hackers would be targeted, but so too would the companies that use IP that was stolen in hacking attacks on American companies.

"Whether it is a state-owned enterprise or a state-supported enterprise in China – if you can figure out and prove that they've committed the crime, charging the company means they can't do business in the US, or in Europe," he said. "It affects their reputation and that then causes them to recalculate: 'Hey, is this worth it?'"

Even governments could be in the line of fire, he said. Carlin cited the 2011 charges brought against Gholam Shakuri, an Iran-based member of that country's Revolutionary Guard, for his claimed part in a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the US, as an example of how prosecutions could be handled.

"It could also mean prosecuting," he said, "laying out in a prosecution document the governments, the people in the government who are doing it."

At this year's Black Hat convention, former FBI executive assistant director Shawn Henry said that foreign intelligence agencies and the hackers they use are the biggest threat the US faces, outside of a WMD attack. And there have been cases in other countries where legal action could have been initiated.

In 2010 the then-UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband publicly accused Israeli government security of using passports cloned from a dozen British tourists to carry out an assassination in Dubai. The government subsequently changed its advice on passport security when traveling in the Holy Land.

Nevertheless, it's difficult to see how the US is going to make charges stick in the current legislative climate, and El Reg doubts many hackers are quaking in their shoes at the thought of getting a legal letter in the post. But prosecutions are coming, Carlin claimed.

"I'll give you a prediction,” he said. "Now that we are having people look at bringing one of these cases, it's there to be brought, and you'll see a case brought." ®

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