I have just finished an amusing and to me enlightening book entitled Internet (how crime went online and the cops followed) Police, by Nate Anderson, deputy editor at Ars Technica—see recommended books list on the left. It is a series of cases of abuse of the internet and the attempt by various people to stop it. Among other things, it highlights the disagreement between those who think the internet should be free and uncontrolled, and those who think it should at least follow the laws that pertain to written material and intellectual property. Unfortunately, it is a very different media than paper, and easier to abuse than control, even if you believe it needs more control. I have no doubt that it will be controlled more tightly as it grows, because that seems to be what happens when populations increase, and when anonymity is easy, money is to be made, and billions of people are involved, many of whom do not particularly revere the internet and view it as a source of quick money rather than something to cherish.
Since I do not follow this topic in detail I found the cases quite extraordinary. One of them, for instance, concerns a man named Nikolaenko, a Russian citizen, who quietly over time built a spambot network based on a virus he designed that infected more than 500,000 computers that would send out spam at his command. It is estimated that at one time his network was producing over 30% of the spam in the world, and Nikolaenko was making millions from his clients. He was finally identified, and apprehended during a visit to the U.S. (Russia does not punish its own citizens for such antics). But U.S. courts could not do much with him, because spam, although very annoying, is difficult to prosecute, because those who do it claim freedom of speech, and old laws don’t seem to have much effect.
Notice that despite the “no call” attempt on the part of the government, telephone marketing is back in full force and even more annoying because it does not now involve real people. We are thinking of dropping our land line, but marketing ads are now showing up on cell phones. The trash quotient for our phone is on a par with the trash quotient in our surface mail (lots). But the trash quotient in my e-mail is worse, and still growing rapidly. And to make it even more insulting, phishers are not even bothering to correct their spelling any more.
A similar case involved a man named Steven Warshak, who founded a company that eventually was selling thirteen different medicines over the internet that supposedly increased penis size. He too was making millions, although the medicines not only didn’t work, they really didn’t exist. He too was identified, but also escaped the punishment he would have received for fraud in the days of written documents.
I knew there were problems in the internet, but not the extent of them, and how difficult it is to prosecute what many of us call “computer crime”, or “internet crime”.
The book is well written, easy to read, and gives a good picture of the problems people have who are trying to police the internet. You will be biased as to how bad the problem is, but having recently gone through the exercise of sending an invoice overseas for some consulting I did, it seems to me that things are getting worse. Sniffers love to find the word invoice, especially on overseas messages, because there is usually lots of valuable information on such things. And I am also enduring Stanford University’s frantic attempts to escape hacking through two layers of passwords, one designed to foil sniffers,and therefore un-memorizable by humans, and the other a constantly changing set of random numbers (encryption is coming), It seems to me that the usefulness of the internet is radically decreasing as a result of lack of control, and lack of laws that fit the media and its international nature.