By: Derek M. Ciulla
Gone are the days of Al Capone, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and Carlo Gambino. Gone are the days of the “big money” rackets of prohibition, prostitution and gambling. Gone are the names of what used to be synonymous with the most powerful crime families in the world: Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese, Bonanno, & Colombo. It’s the 21st century and there is a new top power in the underworld.
For well over a decade, sophisticated criminal organizations have been launching cyber attacks against individuals and major corporations, costing consumers and companies billions of dollars a year. Who are these “hackers?” One gets an image of a frustrated young adult male in his mother’s basement, but that isn’t the case. A great percentage of hackers that are affecting daily American life, are the Russian mafia, more precisely, the Russian Business Network commonly known as “RBN.”
So why is the Russian Mafia the most copious and sophisticated cyber criminal group in the world? After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ex-KGB cyber-spies began to use their expertise as a means of profiting off the hacked information that they had formerly been trained to retrieve for governmental intelligence purposes. The Ex-KGB cyber-spies assembled together, creating a multi-faceted cybercrime organization, RBN.
Similar to the Italian-American crime families, RBN’s sole purpose is to make tons of money. But that purpose is what makes them dissimilar from most hackers, because most hackers want their targets to know that they have been attacked. RBN attacks silently, swiftly and their victims are left completely clueless that their personal data has been stolen and resold.
Most of us have an idea of how the Italian-American crime families are structured. At the very bottom, you have “associates” and made-men referred to as “soldiers” who are part of a crew run by the “capo” or captain. The captains report to the underboss who in turn reports to the boss and the boss is aided by his “Consigliere” or family advisor. Through various schemes and scams money is kicked up in the same direction, i.e. associates and soldiers kick up a large portion of their earnings to the captain of their crew and the captains of each crew kick up a portion of their earnings to the boss. RBN works semi-similarly. Once an RBN hacker has infiltrated a targeted system and reached the threshold of his proficiency, he sends it up the chain to a more skilled hacker and it continues up the chain until it reaches the organization’s top hacker, who will customarily appropriate whatever information the RBN desires and conceal the previous hackers’ tracks.
So how do we legally stop this 21st Century organized crime syndicate? One of the United States’ biggest weapons against organized crime syndicates has been the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). But in order for one to prove that an individual is part of an ongoing illicit criminal enterprise (as required by RICO) one must find that person first. That brings us to the burden that U.S. law enforcement has to bear when trying track down hackers. The Internet is one of the easiest places to keep anonymity and cover your tracks. But there is an even larger obstacle for U.S. law enforcement. The Russian government is secretly sponsoring hackers’ efforts, like RBN, and protecting them from the clutches of international law enforcement. The RBN are not the only ones profiting from their cyber attacks, the Russian government is profiting as well. How? Through protecting illicit criminal organizations such as RBN, stolen intellectual property is being used to benefit companies in Russia.
Since cooperation from the Russian government is unlikely, the FBI and other agencies have been chasing, researching and trying to recruit members within the crime syndicates by utilizing methods similarly employed against the Italian-American Mafia. These methods include studying the culture of that community, sharing information on crime rings with other law enforcement agencies, and gaining information directly from the crime groups through undercover agents or protected informants.
The FBI’s 20th century tactics as mentioned above, when matched against the new 21st century crime syndicate, poses a daunting task for the United States government in protecting its citizens’ privacy and its businesses’ intellectual property. It seems the FBI and other federal agencies are losing the battle, but the war is far from over.
Blogger Bio: Derek is currently a 3L evening division student and a Staff Member with the Journal of High Technology Law at Suffolk University Law School. He holds a B.A. in Sociology from Pace University.