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Source: NewsFactor Network

Posted on June 4, 2001

      A heated battle is brewing on Capitol Hill, where businesses want Congress to take action against cybercrime while privacy advocates want to ensure the privacy rights of Net users.

      The U.S. Congress is finding itself in a quandary over the Internet, as rates of cybercrime are rising quickly and privacy advocates are stepping up pressure to keep both private and government snoops at bay. A U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) survey in March showed online theft and fraud cost U.S. businesses more than US$244 million last year. More recent projections show losses will be closer to $1 billion in 2001.

      At the same time, privacy advocates say the price is a small one to pay if it keeps government trackers out of their lives.

Heated Debate Ahead

      Issues of cybercrime and security are heading for what is expected to be a heated debate sometime during this congressional year, as numerous bills dealing with each side of the question have been introduced.

      Speaking at a panel discussion on the subject, Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), said the best thing government can do is to help improve security and privacy technology.

      Later, Rotenberg told NewsFactor Network that the government "cannot be given everything it needs in fighting crime, and ignoring the needs to keep government out of the life of law-abiding citizens."

Web 'Unstable Playground'

      Rotenberg said the Web is an unstable playground, with numerous private companies already cataloging and reporting on user habits. The idea, he said, of the government being able to intrude is even more offensive.

      In the same panel discussion, Orin Kerr, a trial attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, said cybercriminals currently have the upper hand over government efforts.

      "It's still early in the game," Kerr said, "but I'd strongly advise everyone to safeguard their own systems until we can get ahead of the curve."

Russian-Ukrainian Mob

      The debate followed a report last March that the FBI is investigating a computer crime wave in which Russian and Ukrainian hacker groups, supported by the mob, broke into about 40 Western companies' computer systems, threatening to post stolen credit card numbers and other data if the companies did not pay large sums of money.

      The alert shows that online crime is becoming much more serious than most people think, said Bill Marlow, chief strategy officer for Global Integrity, a security firm based in Reston, Virginia.

      Marlow said that besides extortionists being investigated by the FBI, organized crime rings are selling trade secrets to foreign competitors of American businesses.

      He said quantifying the financial losses of hacking is not easy, because it is difficult to assign a dollar value to intellectual property such as business plans or marketing strategies.

      "Sometimes these kinds of thefts turn out to be much more expensive than the ones we read about in the press," Marlow said.

FBI Issues Alert

      Meanwhile, the FBI went out of its way in March to announce that an alarming new tool will soon be available for cyber-criminals.

      The FBI said the new cyber-weapon, called the "Stick," disarms traditional security systems by overloading them with information, opening access to information-hungry thieves.

      industry observers, however, are calling the Stick flawed and are not giving it much of a chance for success. In addition, a growing number of online security companies either have software to defend against it or are close to developing it.

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