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Web crime defense: Use common sense

Security experts show tenacity in tracking spammers and scammers, but protection is key.

Published September 1, 2005

TAMPA - The trail started with an e-mail scam, which led to a lawsuit in Redmond, Wash. From there, the hunt went to California, Austria and, finally, Iowa.

The indictment last week of a 22-year-old Iowa man on 75 counts of wire fraud was a victory for Microsoft in its war against online scammers. But the one case took about two years to reach that point.

It shows the difficulty of investigating online scams, as well as the tenacity the high-tech industry says it is bringing to the prosecution of spammers, scammers and people who distribute spyware, viruses and other malicious code.

"We want to impose real costs on those wrongdoers," said Jacqueline Beauchere of Microsoft's MSN service. "We want to bring them out of the shadows of the Internet."

Just mentioning the arrest was enough for Beauchere to get applause from a mostly high-tech audience gathered Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Tampa to hear about the industry's efforts, and to pick up a few tips and tricks to protect themselves.

While representatives from America Online, Tampa tech consulting firm Tribridge, Visa and Yahoo also talked about measures they have taken to improve security and what to watch for, they say it is up to consumers and businesses to protect themselves.

Much of the Take Back the Net security program, sponsored by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, Americans for Technology Leadership and WWBA radio, focused on what the industry and security experts have been preaching for a while: Use antivirus software, firewalls and common sense when dealing with e-mail.

Spam, "phishing" schemes using fake e-mails that look like they come from legitimate businesses, identity theft rings and viruses have gone from a little mischief to criminal enterprises.

They are costing people time and money. They have become such an overwhelming problem that many people are changing their online habits or avoiding going online completely.

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist noted that the state has increased penalties for online fraud, bringing the maximum penalty to 30 years in prison. Yet, he acknowledged, "It's tough to catch them."

Brian Zwit, director of integrity assurance for AOL, says people would reduce their risks just following the basics on security precautions.

"If I could get 90 percent of AOL members to do this, I would be giddy," he said.

Yet even the experts can be caught. Paul Russinoff, vice president of state policy for Visa, says he found two keystroke loggers on his computer last week, which were detected with antispyware software.

Bill Ashworth, director of state government affairs for Yahoo, warned of new threats cropping up, such as "gas stations," where hackers are breaking into systems that are transmitting debit card information to banks.

"Cybercrime is here to stay," said Jim Prendergrast of Americans for Technology Leadership, a Washington tech lobbying group. "It's a reality we all have to face."

Dave Gussow can be reached at or 727 787-5785.

[Last modified September 1, 2005, 00:57:17]

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