One U.S. Attorney's War on Cyberfraud

Seattle Prosecutor Says Financial Losses Pose National Threat

U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan is tough on cybercrime, and her federal prosecutions of international cyberthieves are getting attention.

Durkan, who serves the Western District of Washington, is now working with other federal prosecutors to increase their efforts to combat numerous digital crimes, including card fraud. Cyberfraud, Durkan says, is one of the greatest threats facing the nation's economic future.

So what's her key to successful prosecutions? Strong and ongoing collaboration with international partners, Durkan says.

"It's a critical component of this war against cyberfraud," Durkan says in an interview with Information Security Media Group's Tracy Kitten (transcript below).

"Too many times fraudsters actually are in a different country and we can't get to them," she adds.

But through improved cooperation with the global community, Durkan and other federal prosecutors are able to find and arrest cybercriminals. "Sometimes that means they will be prosecuted in a different country, but sometimes it means they will be extradited to face charges here," Durkan says.

During this interview, Durkan discusses:

  • Recent cyberfraud cases her office has successfully prosecuted, and how they illustrate the need for more sophisticated investigations;
  • The crime focus for her office; and
  • Why most digital crimes, in one way or another, lead back to card fraud.

Durkan serves as the top federal law enforcement officer for 18 counties in western Washington. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Durkan to chair the Attorney General's Advisory Subcommittee on Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Enforcement, and she is now a member of three other subcommittees: Terrorism and National Security, Civil Rights, and Native American Issues. Under Durkan's leadership, the U.S. Attorney's Office in western Washington is increasing its efforts to enforce intellectual property laws and combat the threat of cybercrimes. Durkan also is revitalizing the office's prosecutions in the areas of fraud and white-collar crimes, environmental crimes, illegal gun sales and civil rights enforcement.

A Review of Recent Cases

TRACY KITTEN: Your office has spearheaded a number of efforts in recent years to fight cyberfraud. In June, your office charged David Schrooten, also known as Fortezza, for his alleged involvement in the point-of-sale hacking scheme that involved the underground sale of more than 180,000 debit and credit card accounts. What can you tell us about this case, as well as the investigation?

JENNY DURKAN: I think it's a terrific case that highlights both the challenges we face in bringing cybercriminals to justice and how much better we're getting at that. This was a case where it had all the hallmarks of a cyber-intrusion. You don't have to be in the same state, the same city or even the same country. We had a hacker who was in a different state working with another person who was located in another country and they sold to someone in yet a different state. The investigation is very difficult to chase people through cyberspace, so one thing this case highlighted was that our ability to find the criminals is getting better.

It's also very important for another reason. One of the people who we were able to arrest, prosecute and charge was the person who actually did the hack and was able to get the information from one of the business's credit card information. The other person in a separate country, [who] we were able to arrest and eventually find and extradite to America, was actually able to take that information and post it to a carding site and sell it. Then the third person we were able to arrest in this conspiracy is actually someone who purchased some of those [stolen cards]. So we had all three legs of the stool we were able to get in this investigation, which was really an advance over what we've been able to do before.

KITTEN: I wanted to ask about another case. This one goes back to September of last year when your office filed charges against five suspects for their alleged involvement in two separate card fraud schemes involving ATM skimming, which of course is another area where we continue to see a lot of arrests being made. Card fraud schemes involving ATM skimming and POS attacks continue to grow. How are some of these prosecutions deterring criminals, or are these schemes just too prevalent to really curb?

DURKAN: No, they can be curbed. And, in fact, our focus on them in this district has driven the amount of skimming fraud almost to zero. Now, we expect that to rise again as different crews and different schemes come in, but I think our prosecutions, combined with banks having better detection and consumers knowing what to look for, those three components - consumer education, better protection and strong prosecutions - have really been successful in deterring skimming fraud.

International Collaboration

KITTEN: When it comes to bringing down some of these criminals and gangs, how is collaboration with international law enforcement agencies aiding prosecutions that take place here in the States?

DURKAN: Our collaboration with international partners is getting better all the time, and is a critical component of this war against cyberfraud. Too many times ... some of the fraudsters actually are in a different country and we can't get to them. But because of the international cooperation, now we're finding that we're able to find them and arrest them. Sometimes that means they will be prosecuted in a different country, but sometimes it means they will be extradited to face charges here. So that cooperation is increasing and the sophistication of the investigations overseas is also increasing.

KITTEN: Your office really has spearheaded initiatives that we haven't seen really anywhere else in the country. Why has the war against cyberfraud been such a focus for your office?

DURKAN: It has been a focus because I think it's one of the greatest threats facing our economic future as well as our country, both on the national security side and on the pure criminal side. Every year, there's more and more money lost to cybercrimes - whether it's ATM skimming and other types of digital crimes, or out-and-out fraud or hacking and penetration card sales. It's costing our country billions of dollars, and if we don't get ahead of it, I think it really jeopardizes our economic security.

Prosecuting Cybercriminals

KITTEN: Card fraud is a huge focus in the financial space. But what other types of cybercrimes is your office most often prosecuting?

DURKAN: The joke used to be when they asked Jessie James, "Why do you rob banks," he said, "Because that's where the money is." Well today, the money is in digital crime, whether it's ATM skimming, hacking, DDoS attacks - you name it, that's where the money is. And so we're taking a very broad look in trying to make sure that we're attacking it everywhere we see it and trying to get ahead of the curve.

KITTEN: How's your office setting an example for other U.S. attorneys where legal action against cyberfraud is concerned?

DURKAN: I think that there's a new emphasis in the Department of Justice nationwide, and the U.S. attorneys are leading that charge to make sure that we meet this new century threat to our country - cybercrime. Our office is fortunate to be one of the leaders, partly because of where we're located and my role as chair of the cybercrime subcommittee. But I think that there's a renewed emphasis at the prosecution level, and also the United States Secret Service and the FBI have some of the best cyber-investigators.

Federal Committee on Cybercrime

KITTEN: What can you tell our audience about the Attorney General's Advisory Committee on Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Enforcement?

DURKAN: This is a policy group which tries to see what the trends are and the needs for U.S. attorneys communities looking into the future to address this threat. We're trying to make sure that we have enough lawyers trained to do these kinds of prosecutions. The forensics evidence is difficult to gather and very time-consuming, so we have to make sure we have enough forensics examiners trained in all of our law enforcement agencies as well as our local partners. A perfect example is there's a task force that operates here in Seattle, the Electronic Crimes Task Force, which is both state and local and federal investigators, and we have investigators that are some of the best in the country collaborating and working together.

KITTEN: I also wanted to ask about the role that you play on this committee and the initiatives that you and the committee are working on right now.

DURKAN: We're trying to do a holistic thing. One: to make sure that we have the adequate training nationwide; and two: that we're sharing information and trends. Now what happens with the electronic crime cases is you can have a person from Romania hack into computers in Seattle, Los Angeles, Florida, D.C. Someone has to be able to see those trends and connect the dots. So one of the very important things in this field is to have those connections, that collaboration and that information sharing.

KITTEN: Before we close, what advice can you offer other attorneys and industry practitioners where the fight against cybercrime is concerned?

DURKAN: I think that one of the key things in our success has been that consumers and businesses need to be aware of the risks. They need to take the right precautions to protect against those risks. And when hacks or suspicious activity occurs they need to report it. And our success [in many cases] has been because we had a business or a consumer come to us and say, "Hey, this happened to me," or, "This didn't seem right." That gives law enforcement the ability to do the investigation we need to do, and to bring some of these people to justice.

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