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Just Say No... To Cyber Extortion

01/23/04

iC3 GraphicLet's say you're a large U.S. retailer ... with a huge presence on the web. Out of the blue, you start getting e-mail messages from someone who claims that you might have major security weaknesses in your website.

Then, the kicker. The person says: "Pay me a handsome sum ... or I'll go public with the details. I'll even post the names and credit card numbers of your online customers ... right on your website."

Well, what do you do? Sadly, many companies fail to report this kind of cyber-extortion. In fact, last year's Computer Crime and Security Survey by the FBI and the Computer Security Institute found that more than two out of three organizations victimized by serious cyber attacks did not report them to law enforcement.

Why? Many simply said they didn't want the negative publicity or feared that competitors might use the situation to their advantage. More than half also said they didn't even know that such incidents could be reported. Other organizations and companies didn't know how or where to report cyber intrusions.

In one recent case, the company did the right thing: it contacted the FBI. Last October, someone claiming to be Jamie Weathersby of IPC Corp. tried to extort $2.5 million from a large U.S. electronics business. Security officials from the company contacted the FBI. The case was turned over to the Minneapolis FBI field office and then on to its CyberCrime Task Force, which is made up not only of FBI Agents but also investigators from a number of different local, state, and federal agencies.

With the cooperation of the company and the help two major Internet service providers, the task force traced the e-mails to Thomas E. Ray III of Jackson, Mississippi. Earlier this month, Ray was indicted on two extortion counts by a Federal Grand Jury in the District of Minnesota.

Fortunately, the company found no evidence that its customer data or accounts were compromised.

So where do you go to report such a cyber attack ... or, for that matter, any cyber crime? Call your local FBI field office. Or contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center (I3C), run jointly by the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. Depending on the nature of your complaint, the I3C will refer it to the appropriate FBI office or government agency for action.

Related links: I3C website | Press Release