Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Blackhole Crimeware Creator Gets 7 Years

That's a nice law enforcement win. 'Blackhole' is variously known as an exploit-kit or -pack or just straight-up crimeware, as it often came with regular updates,  or even support contracts. I have enough Blackhole references, dating back to 2012, in my database that it became boring to add them.

Brian Krebs reported this on 2016-04-14, at http://krebsonsecurity.com/2016/04/blackhole-exploit-kit-author-gets-8-years/. Note that there is a one year discrepancy between the URL and the the stated sentence.

I've already heard rumbles (possibly from other security worker-bees who hated plugging 'Blackhole' into a database for the nth time) that the sentence wasn't long enough. The line of thought was about scale: that Dmitry “Paunch” Fedotov, whom Krebs reports as having more than 1,000 customers, was earning $50,000 per month, and likely contributed to tens of millions of dollars stolen from small to mid-sized businesses over several years.

I can see the temptation there. Particularly the bit about 'tens of millions', and particularly the 'small to mid-sized businesses'. Organizations that fit that size description have been some of my favorite clients, are often most in need of the help, and I just generally feel better about having helped out an organization of that size, rather than some Fortune 500 behemoth. I would be amazed if I were to discover that that viewpoint is unusual, if could somehow survey the people down in the security trenches.

But was the penalty really light, at seven or eight years? Possibly not. First off, this was a Russian law enforcement win, and the sentence will be served in a penal colony. I don't know about you, but the idea of spending 7-8 years in a Russian penal colony does not take me to my Happy Place. I'm not going to address that further.

Suppose this was a United States thing? A US citizen, in US courts, with a potential for serving a sentence in a US prison?

Krebs refers to the likelihood of 'tens of millions of dollars stolen'. I completely agree. But let's compare this to the physical world. That necessarily involves bank heists, armored car robberies, etc., where people are likely to be injured or killed. Much drama, making it a natural for movies, such as Oceans n, or based on the Lufthansa heist, etc. Wikipedia has a list of large-value US robberies, several of which are in that tens of millions category. The most recent of $10+ million robberies date to 1997. The largest of which was the Dunbar Armored robbery, involving $27.9 million in 2016 dollars. The sentence? 24 years for mastermind Allen Pace, an insider. Under parole guidelines, he will have to serve 18 years, and five others will have to serve 8-17 years.

Bear in mind that this was a record robbery: it seems likely that it was politicized to at least some degree. The Loomis Fargo robbery ($25.5 million today) occurred the same year, yielded sentences from probation to 11 years. I haven't researched possible parole dates.

Differences in criminal justice systems make it difficult to judge whether Fedotov drew a sentence that was appropriate. But it seems to me to be broadly comparable, at minimum. That is a win for law enforcement. Penalties used to be no more than a slap on the wrist, as long as the crime was committed over the network. The extent of the damages didn't seem to matter.

There will be no immediate effect, no matter how much we might wish otherwise.

Sending signals has been less than effective in even the geopolitical realm, where huge numbers of government bureaucrats (State Department, etc.) are employed to keep it all sorted out, and react in something like real-time. Criminals will entirely miss this one, even if it should prove to be the start of a trend toward commensurate sentencing. It seems likely to be a generational thing.

I'm fine with that.

A couple of years ago I posted Law Always Lags, As It Should, "The universal claim seems to be that the law is behind the times. My take is that is better to have law that lags than law that leads. While lagging legal thought will certainly lead to injustice, it is less likely to lead to wholesale injustice. It is the lesser of two evils in an imperfect world."

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