Cybersecurity

FBI Teams With China to Nab Alleged Hackers


The U.S. last week brought charges against two Arkansas men for operating an e-mail hacking website, needapassword.com, which offered to obtain passwords to any e-mail account for a fee. The scheme, operated by Mark Anthony Townsend of Cedarville, Ark., and Joshua Alan Tabor of Prairie Grove, affected some 6,000 accounts, according to a Jan. 24 press release from the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Cedarville and Prairie Grove have a combined population of less than 6,000 people. Yet the investigation into the website stretched around the globe.

Three customers, scattered across California, Michigan, and the Bronx, have been charged with hiring the hackers. One of them, John Ross Jesensky of Northridge, Calif., allegedly paid $21,675 to a Chinese website to get e-mail account passwords, according to the release. The FBI coordinated its investigation with law enforcement agencies in Romania, India, and China, resulting in arrests in all three countries. China’s Ministry of Public Security arrested Ying Liu, also known as Brent Liu, for operating the website hacktohire.net—an arrest noted in the FBI press release and also in a separate announcement on the ministry’s website, dated Jan. 27.

Exactly how all the actors in various countries intersected isn’t yet clearly spelled out. But the cases illustrate the complexities of investigating cybercrime, which crosses international borders with a mouse click. National law enforcement agencies still can’t do that quite as easily.

It’s good news that the U.S. has been able to find points of common interest with other countries, including China, says Ian Wallace, a visiting fellow in cybersecurity at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “The very fact of cooperating between U.S. law enforcement and their counterparts in Romania, India, and China is encouraging,” Wallace says. “The question going forward will be whether governments like China can be persuaded to take action against hackers operating in areas that are seen as more directly benefiting the state. Nevertheless, this is a step in the right direction—the more such cooperation takes place, the more it becomes established as the international norm.”

In other words, the finger-pointing between the U.S. and China over cyber spying doesn’t advance protections for us poor schmucks who just want to use the Internet in relative peace and safety. This kind of collaboration does.

Lawrence is a reporter for Bloomberg News in New York.

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