DOJ scores two cyber crime wins

The Justice Department scored several more punches blows against cyber criminals this week.

In separate cases, a judge imprisoned another member of a massive bank hacking ring and the government secured a guilty plea in its first ever conviction for selling smartphone stalking software.

Federal authorities are working to show existing law can work in punishing cyber criminals.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We have a sense that cyber actors … think it’s a freebie,” said FBI Director James Comey in a recent speech. Government must impose costs on cyber thieves, he added, “by physically laying hands on them whenever we possibly can and locking people up.”

The bank hacking ring bust was led by Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s pick to succeed Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderEric Holder: 'There are grounds for impeachment' in Mueller report Prosecutor appointed by Barr poised to enter Washington firestorm Dems struggle to make Trump bend on probes MORE. Lynch is a federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York.

The worldwide cyber crime syndicate hacked bank accounts, and then hit up ATMs across New York, racking up $2.8 million in stolen cash.

On Tuesday, Elvis Rafael Rodriguez was sentenced to 34 months in jail, joining two other co-defendants who were sentenced to prison time in October. Ten other co-defendants have also pled guilty.

“While the technical intrusion was highly sophisticated and the teams of cashers highly organized, law enforcement moved with even greater expertise to solve the cyber crime and bring the perpetrators to justice,” Lynch said.

Lynch’s work on the case was highlighted when Obama nominated her for attorney general.

Also on Tuesday, the man behind StealthGenie — software that can be used to secretly monitor calls, texts and emails on someone’s smartphone — pled guilty to federal charges.

Hammad Akbar, who owned the company advertising and selling StealthGenie, was sentenced to time served and ordered to pay a $500,000 fine. He also had to hand over StealthGenie’s source code to authorities.

The case is the first of its kind, the DOJ said.

“Make no mistake: selling spyware is a federal crime, and [DOJ] will make a federal case out if it,” said Leslie Caldwell, assistant attorney general of DOJ’s criminal division.

This type of mobile spyware, dubbed “stalking apps,” have gotten the attention of lawmakers.

Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenHirono electrifies left as Trump antagonist Miss USA pageant winner celebrated for addressing 'Me Too' movement on stage NY man sentenced to prison for racist death threats to Obama, Waters MORE (D-Minn.) has been pushing a bill to outlaw apps that clandestinely track other phones GPS.

Opponents of these apps argue they enable serious crimes such as domestic abuse. Others point out that apps used to remotely monitor smartphones used by children or employees could have legitimate purposes.

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, which Franken chairs, held a hearing on the issue earlier this year.

“People ought to be able to control who can access their sensitive information, and stalking apps on cellphones directly violate that principle,” Franken said when federal authorities initially shut down StealthGenie in October.