Justice Department Promises War Against Cyber Crime

Handcuffs and KeyboardThe U.S. Justice Department’s criminal division head is coming out swinging against cyber crime. She plans to make it her number one priority.

Leslie Caldwell, who assumed the position in June, told the Wall Street Journal, “Organized crime is very capable of adapting and evolving, and, frankly, cybercrime is a relatively low-risk proposition for a lot of organized criminals and it can be extraordinarily lucrative.”

Before returning to the Justice Department, Caldwell spent eight years as a white collar defense attorney for Philadelphia’s Morgan Lewis & Bockius L.L.P. According to Philly.com, “Caldwell focused her practice at Morgan on internal corporate investigations and defense of companies in regulatory proceedings and criminal probes. Before joining Morgan, Caldwell was a senior lawyer in the Justice Department under Attorney General John Ashcroft. There, she headed the government’s investigation of Enron Corp., the energy-trading company whose collapse in 2001, in addition to roiling financial markets, cost its investors, many of them retirees, billions.”

The Wall Street Journal, citing how committed the Justice Department is to fighting cyber crime, mentions the takedown of Gameover Zeus. The department, it said, “struck a blow against a major botnet this spring, when it shut down a network infected with malicious software known as Gameover Zeus. At the time, prosecutors said the network had been used to steal at least $100 million.”

“If you can do something like that…why would you bother setting up a major international narcotics trafficking organization? The chances of success are high, the chances of capture are lower and the sentences are not as long if you do get caught,” said Caldwell to the Journal.

Demonstrating how difficult the Justice Department’s fight will be, TheRegister.co.uk reports, “Now a new variant of Gameover Zeus is being used to establish a zombie network. Sophos reports that the new variant is distributed through widespread spam campaigns, meaning the number of infections may already be large. Dodgy messages pose as online bank account statements, it said. The attachments of these messages are actually riddled with malware.”

Caldwell said the department needs more resources to deal with the international aspects of cyber cases. With many alleged hackers working from countries such as Russia that don’t have extradition treaties with the U.S., prosecutors have been resorting to creative tactics to apprehend them when they travel.

On its website, the Justice Department outlines its strategy for fighting cyber crimes. “The Department is committed to carrying out its role consistent with the Administration’s Executive Order on Improving Critical Infrastructure Cyber Security, which emphasizes intelligence and information sharing as well as the preservation of privacy, data confidentiality, and civil liberties. One of the most important aspects of the Executive Order is its emphasis on improving government mechanisms for providing timely cyber threat information to the private sector so it may better protect and defend itself against cyber threats,” the website says, adding “Under the Executive Order, each federal department and agency is also required to develop and implement privacy and civil liberties safeguards in concert with its cyber security activities.”

Even though she’s fighting cyber crime, Caldwell is not well received among the investment community. Investors.com pulled no punches when describing Caldwell’s work on Enron. “You’d think someone who had thrown 85,000 people out of work, as this former Enron task force chief prosecutor did in her indictment of Arthur Andersen, before the whole thing was thrown out by a 9-0 Supreme Court, would go quietly from the public spotlight. Not so with Caldwell, a notoriously anti-business activist who in concert with the Obama White House is instead failing upward,” said the editorial, which described her as “Godzilla” being unleashed.

Keith Griffin
Keith Griffin is an award-winning business writer and editor with more than 30 years experience as a journalist. His work has been published in The Boston Globe, Medical Economist, Good Housekeeping, About.com, the Hartford Courant, CT Law Tribune and numerous other regional publications.