Technology

Miscreants of the Internet Love to Torture Brian Krebs


Miscreants of the Internet Love to Torture Brian Krebs

Photograph by John Fedele/Getty Images

What is Brian Krebs?

Well, for one thing, he’s a human. He’s also a reporter who used to write for the Washington Post and who now runs his own blog that specializes in security coverage. On a more abstract level, though, he’s a living, breathing experiment—a vehicle through which the characters of the Internet underworld demonstrate what sort of mayhem they can cause in real life.

In March, armed police officers descended on Krebs’ home. The reporter was busy tidying up when about a dozen cops fixed their assault rifles and other weapons on his front door. Turns out, Krebs had done nothing wrong other than pique the interest of some hacker types who had tricked the police into thinking a 911 call had come from the house. Earlier this week the fun continued when about $150 worth of heroin appeared in Krebs’s mailbox. Again, an Internet hooligan had been at play, ordering the drugs off the Silk Road black market. Being the savvy reporter that he is, Krebs had been spying on the Silk Road and various message boards and caught wind of the plot ahead of time, which let him call the cops and apprise them of the situation.

Today, I caught up with Krebs for a brief interview about what it’s like to have people constantly messing with his life and to get to know his local police force on such an intimate basis.

What exactly does that initial conversation with the FBI or police sound like?
It sounds like you might expect, awkward at first but then understanding and awareness, which is great: The more the local police are aware of the nutty scams going on in cyberspace, the quicker they may be to understand when these matters spill over into the physical world, as they so often do.

Are the local cops getting used to dealing with your crazy life by now?
I hope not “used to” me at all, although I am slowly getting to know more of the local police force by name, which from my perspective can only be a plus. The second cop that came out to take my report and collect what I assume was heroin just shook his head and said he, too, was interested to learn if the material was in fact heroin. When I bid him thanks and to be safe, he laughed and said, “I was gonna say the same to you. I’m not the one with Russian hackers sending him love letters like this one.”

Why are people doing this to you?
Who knows? Because they can? That’s probably why. People underestimate the amount of mischief and headache you can create for another person using nothing more than a computer. Some people like to believe there is this hard line or demarcation between where the interwebs end and the real world begins, but in truth that line never really was very bright and it’s fading more each day. By the way, this holds true, I believe, for both those who might be the victims of cybercrime or online mischief and for those who are the perpetrators of these actions.

Do you mostly make money from ads on your site?
Yes, and public speaking. Occasionally, I get hired to do some research, but mostly I rely on my readers for continued support and encouragement.

There are lots of security reporters out there—a number of them quite good. Yet you seem to be the only one being attacked at this level. Why is that?
Probably because there aren’t a lot of other journalists who are spending significant amounts of time in the underground forums, trying to learn about and shine a light on the new criminal services that are every day lowering the barriers to entry for new, would-be cybercrooks. It’s interesting because while some purveyors of these services look at a journalist covering his business as free advertising, others do not appreciate it one bit.

It’s mostly the latter camp that has lashed out, I think. In the case of this guy Flycracker, I can’t say for sure why he has latched onto me. He’s had a bead on me for several months. Just check out his Twitter handle and view some of his previous tweets, his avatars past and present, and the images he’s posted and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. Who knows? Perhaps Fly felt left out of all the attention. It wouldn’t be the first time a real-life, big-time fraudster antagonized a journalist for attention. Conventional wisdom is that these guys all now seek riches over renown, but that’s not entirely true, in my experience.

Are you starting to get worried for your life or the safety of your family?
This is—and has always been—a principal concern for me. Nothing has changed on that front.

Vance_190
Vance is a technology writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in Palo Alto, Calif. Follow him on Twitter @valleyhack.

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