The advent of cyber crime created a lot of headaches for police forces. Over a very short space of time, an entirely new form of criminality emerged. There were no fingerprints, no witnesses, and often the victim and the perpetrator were continents apart.
It’s debatable who exactly the first hacker to be jailed was. But certainly one contender for the moniker is Captain Crunch, or John Draper to his friends and family. Draper, now 75, served in the U.S. Air Force before working as an engineer in Silicon Valley in the early 1970s. However, in his spare time, he was involved in phone phreaking. What’s phreaking? Essentially it’s the telecoms equivalent of hacking, using in-depth knowledge of how the telephone system works to get free phone calls. At the time, phone phreakers were underground celebrities and it was that celebrity that led the police to his door.
- Hacking sprees
One of the first to get caught was Kevin Mitnick, who began breaking into computer networks as a teenager in the late ’70s and by the late 1980s had embarked on a prolific hacking career. Law enforcement finally caught up with him in 1988 when he was convicted of breaking into computer maker Digital’s network and stealing their software. Mitnick was jailed for a year and was then meant to do three years of supervised release but, near the end of the term, he was caught hacking Pacific Bell and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
- International takedowns
Levin’s arrest illustrated another issue in pursuing international cyber criminals — you can only extradite someone from a country you have an extradition treaty with. Once a suspect is identified, authorities will often wait until they travel to a country they can extradite from and request their arrest. Since Levin’s London arrest, a steady stream of suspects have ended up in custody after they got on a plane thinking they were going on holidays.
- Putting the squeeze on
Takedowns not involving arrests are sometimes criticized as being ineffective or tokenistic, but this is often far from the case. The takedown of the Gameover Zeus is a classic case in point. Just under four years ago, the FBI, the UK’s National Crime Agency, a number of other police forces, along with cyber security companies including Symantec teamed up to tackle the financial Trojan which, at the time, was one of the most prolific and dangerous financial online threats.