Good news, of a kind, from a dark world


As a fan of BoingBoing dating from a decade ago, when it was delivered on horseback, I wanted to share something positive with fellow readers in my first guest post. Unfortunately, the thing I've been most passionate about in my reporting and writing since 1999--cybercrime and tech security--doesn't lend itself to much that's happy. What I'm offering today is a compromise. It was good news to me personally, and it will be good news to those of you who have my read my book, Fatal System Error. For the rest of you, it won't be pleasant, and I'm sorry about that.

On Friday, I got a Skype message from a longtime source of mine: "My friend got his daughter back." We spoke on Sunday, and I will tell you what I can from that talk. To begin with, though, my source uses the fake name Jart Armin of HostExploit.

Like the people who work at Spamhaus, Jart is one of those people dedicated to tracking the worst cyber gangs who works in anonymity in order to protect himself. I don't like quoting people I can't name, but I did so in the book with Jart because he has done important research and because he is entirely right to be afraid of the people he has been tracking.

To explain that in the book, I briefly told the story of a colleague of Jart's who was investigating mob activity in St. Petersburg, Russia. The colleague made the mistake of working with the local police. Before he finished his assignment, the man's teenage daughter was kidnapped from her Western country, and the investigator got a message that if he dropped the case, the rest of his children might be okay.

That was five years ago. I had to leave the story hanging in the book because there had been no closure. A couple of weeks ago, the man got a new message. His daughter was in Kazakhstan, and he could have her back as long as he agreed not to look into certain of the gang's activities. One factor in the change of heart was the additional attention that Fatal System Error brought to the mob. The family has been reunited, though the young woman is not the same as she was. She was fed drugs and used to service men. A grim story, but at least it has an ending now, and I wanted to update those who knew the first part.

There are many reasons why cybercrime is as bad as it is, and getting much worse. One of them is lack of awareness of how dangerous and well-connected the gangs are. The most serious identity thieves and fraudsters are not isolated teenage script kiddies. They are mobsters who kill people, and worse, though those stories are seldom told. Folks need to know just how bad they are, every bit as much as they need to know the stories of the heroes who are risking their lives to stop them.


  1. Holy shit… I actually had no idea this kind of violence was part of this type of crime. I hope the girl can live a somewhat normal life now. She’s alive and she has a family… that’s a pretty good start :)

    1. 5 years of forced drug use and serial rape isn’t going to be easy to recover from. Anon… totally inappropriate use of smiley emoticon.

  2. Okay, when we say “used to service men” here we mean “serial raped,” right? Just to be clear.

  3. Horrible story of course – my condolences to those involved. I don’t understand where the money comes in for cybercrime, though. Does 4chan buy botnets to take down Gene Simmons? Are the V!@gra spammers so desperate that they pay good money for open relays? Are scammers paying good money for CCNs that have been passed through a dozen script kiddies and then .torrented? Heck, even the ATM skimmers you hear about barely get away with enough money to pay rent on a decent place.

    On one hand, it makes me want to dismiss this all out-of hand. On the other, it kinda makes me want to buy the book.

    1. Credit card scams, identity theft, debit card cloning, DOS attack extortion (‘nice site you’ve got there, such shame something could happen to it…’), wholesale distribution of content for third-world pirate markets, all those activities are quite lucrative for the criminals involved.

      I understood it as that the hell that young woman was subjected to was forced prostitution. Sadly, not difficult to imagine her being used by her captors for profit while a hostage, as many immigrants trying to reach Europe or North America are :-/

      1. Forced prostitution is still serial rape. Let’s call a spade a spade – I expect weasel words from news sites, but we can be better than that. (Of course it makes a difference to the young woman’s recovery whether she was prostituted or not, but I don’t think it bears on the conversation at hand.) I think this is important, because if you refer to a woman who was forced into prostitution in that way, it activates the “prostitution is IMMORAL, so she must have been ASKING FOR IT!” centers of many people’s brains.

        Of course, there’s an entire debate about whether prostitution is really immoral or not that is completely off topic for this comment thread; but whatever you believe on the subject, we can probably agree that women who don’t choose to be prostitutes shouldn’t have to bear any stigma of prostitution. In general, then, we should refer to forced prostitution – or being “forced to service men” – as rape.

  4. Meanwhile, the lawyers from [insert name of archaic-distribution-of-media-product association] are out there after the real cybercriminals: people that download an MP3 of a crappy pop tune.

    Pardon my french, but: f*ck.

  5. I hate Spamhaus. Really.

    They blacklisted my business site, because it was in an IP that was close to a spammer.

    They won’t accept emails. Or any request. Or any evidence. They will ignore postal mail like you are shit on their shoe. They are just cyber bullies, throwing their weight around and not caring about collateral damage.

    (Oh and tragic story BTW.)

    1. No, they blacklisted your provider because your provider wouldn’t do anything about their criminal customer(s). Why lose that business, right? And if you know your provider is supporting crime, why wouldn’t you switch to a more responsible one? Because providers that actually invest time and effort in policing their network charge more. So you were getting a deal as a result of criminal activity too. This is why criminals have such an easy time on the internet. Everybody gets a cut in their own way.

      In the end, only a few obsessive people really care about internet crime, and because there’s no general social approbation, it makes those few individuals easy targets for intimidation. If everyone were involved, they couldn’t get much leverage by kidnapping one daughter.

      I give up. I gave up. I’m not doing it anymore, but I have nothing but respect for those obsessive, crazy people who still do. They’re on a hard road. Made harder by people who don’t mind that crime pays, as long as it pays them.

      1. They’re on a hard road. Made harder by people who don’t mind that crime pays, as long as it pays them.

        A category that includes people in the highest levels of the US government.

        Ha! My captcha is “419 summoned” which is incredibly apt, given the Bush families’ connections with corruption in the Nigerian banking system.

  6. I’d love to hear stories like this getting more coverage. On the Grauniad this afternoon, they’re reporting the arrest of “an Armenian citizen” who is, allegedly, the author of the Bredolab worm. They do mention, rather briefly, that this guy was selling its capabilities to criminal networks, but it’s all too easy for the mainstream media to portray these characters as lone rangers. That’s the hook, right? One guy infecting millions of computers and sending billions of tainted emails. Isn’t it crazy, this internet thing?

    Yup, apparently it is one guy. With links to and relationships with lots of really vicious b*stards. More of the same please, Mr Menn. Admirable work.

  7. Are you concerned that someone could determine Jart’s identity by harming you? Seems like, unfortunately, an easy task for ruthless criminals such as these.

  8. the ‘international community’ sentenced russia to plutocracy for life and these are the predatory results. what new scourges will an increasingly undemocratic USA bring upon the world?

  9. No, guys, it says she was “forced to service men” as in, get them drinks and animal crackers and stuff. If it was rape, it would have been written that way.

    Poor, poor kid. Her whole life has been dragged through the dirt. It’s likely that she’s now addicted to drugs, and definitely has *lasting* sexual trauma, both physically and emotionally. There’s no returning to 100% after that.

    But like many BB readers, I know that I sleep safer knowing that the people who DL movies illegally are catching whatfor.

    1. Yup, I was going to write something snarky like that, then I wondered if it might be disrespectful.

      No such concerns for you, though. Rock on!

  10. this is great news, at least that his daughter is now safe and back with the family. Unfortunately the rest cannot be undone. I wish the best for that family.
    I am hoping that there will be a sequel to the book though, Id like to find out what came of the continuation of some of those investigations.

  11. I am very happy to hear she has come home and very sorry for her suffering.

    The world of (dis)organized crime in the digital age is still run by the same evil criminals as crime always has been. This is just one awful example.


  12. It’s really kind of awful that this girl’s kidnapping has to be memorialized in a book with such an awful title. “Fatal System Error?” Sounds like the character that got removed from the final version of the screenplay for “Hacker,” alongside “Crash Override” and “Zero Cool.”

  13. if it had no security guards, car rides and lose two or three teeth after being beaten and losing money you run the risk of being contaminated with amphetamines, lsd, to fall into disrepute, this already happens here. even making someone reliable to report all their steps daily email twitter if the report is stopping because something has gone wrong already and support do not always arrive on time

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