Proposed US law would single out cybercrime havens

Under the law, the White House would track countries that are soft on cybercrime

A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate Tuesday would compel the White House to identify international cybercrime havens and establish plans for cleaning them up.

The International Cybercrime Reporting and Cooperation Act takes on a growing problem for banks and U.S. businesses: the ability for cybercriminals to operate with impunity across international borders. The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, and Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah.

In recent years, cybercriminals have mastered techniques for hacking into consumer and small-business bank accounts and moving money overseas. They have also become adept at converting hacked personal computers into botnet computer networks, which then can be used for spam, distributed denial of service attacks and ID theft.

The bill would shine a spotlight on countries that are thought to be soft on cybercrime and introduce new protocols for addressing the problem.

Under the proposed legislation, the president would provide an annual assessment on international cybercrime and would be able to suspend aid, financing or trade programs with countries that fail to improve.

"Other countries aren't going after these criminals at all," Gillibrand said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. "We need the help of Russia and China and all of our other countries to be able to create protocols to crack down on cybercriminals."

Emerging cybercrime regions -- those with a low adoption of information technologies -- would be prioritized under the law.

The act has the support of U.S. companies now being hit by cyberfraud, including American Express, Mastercard, Visa and eBay. Facebook, Microsoft, Cisco and Hewlett-Packard also support the bill, Gillibrand's office said.

Although no timeline has been set, House representatives want to introduce their version of the act, according to Judith Kargbo, a spokeswoman for Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, a Democrat from New York. "We're definitely planning on introducing a similar bill," she said.

Cyberinvestigators agree that international cooperation is a major stumbling block when it comes to attacking computer crime, but it's not clear that the bill's unfunded mandates would have a significant effect on known cybercrime havens such as Russia, the Ukraine and Nigeria.

It could, however, encourage cooperation among local law enforcement by pressuring countries that are known to be soft on cybercrime to take action, said Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute. "It has some very good stuff in it," he said. "The public visibility could provide an incentive for more communication, and once the cops meet each other, they get along great."

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has recently stepped up efforts to embed cyberinvestigators with foreign agencies -- sending agents to Estonia, the Ukraine and the Netherlands.

And cooperation with Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) seems to be improving. After years of inaction, the FSB recently arrested Viktor Pleshchuk of St. Petersburg in connection with a 2008 attack on payment processor RBS WorldPay, which netted criminals US$9.5 million in a matter of hours.

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