55°
UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

FBI Initiates Massive Crackdown on Software Pirates

This is old news to anyone even tangentially involved in the scene: On December 11, the FBI executed the largest ever crackdown on computer crackers, so-called because they ‘crack’ the encryption codes that prevent unauthorized copying of proprietary computer programs, and software pirates, who burn the unprotected software onto CD-ROMS or DVDs and sell the illegal copies for profit. The cracked software includes nearly every type of computer program or media imaginable, from operating systems and software to full-length, digitally encoded movies and concerts, not to mention music CDs.

Last Tuesday, the FBI served more than 100 search warrants, in 21 states across the United States and world-wide, and dozens more were conducted in a co-ordinated effort by other countries. Universities including Purdue, MIT, Oregon, Duke were hit especially hard as students, computer labs and even staff and faculty had hard drives confiscated and offices and dorms searched for evidence of illegal software. No reports of raids at any UMass campuses yet, although a mad, silent scramble to wipe log files and delete hard drives is apparently underway at certain subterranean computer labs in a certain Brahmin city at a certain state university.

Reported by a quick-moving hacker news bulletin, last seen at : http://www.cyberworld.ru/scenebusted/, 17 people were arrested in Europe, 2 in Finland, 6 in Britain, 7 from Australia, and 2 from Norway. No arrests were made in the US. Only searches of homes and dorm rooms were carried out, and computers, CDs, and equipment were seized. This eyewitness account was related online on an internet relay chat channel

“Five FBI agents came to avec’s house at 9:30AM CMT with federal search warrant. took 271 cd’s. watched her computer for 2 hours. FBI watched avec’s computer for a few hours monitoring #world-sites, #eu-sites, and #usa-sites for 3 hours. all the channel sites.

her shell was open”

IRC is the real-time underground of the Internet, where hundreds of thousands of chatters use a loose, unregulated and very open network of servers around the world to chat, trade software and advice, and keep in touch with the absolute latest in hacker news.

IRC is the precursor to the now ubiquitous web-based chat networks, many of which use IRC protocols and servers, many based in universities and colleges world-wide.

No arrests were made in America, because the FBI apparently wanted to make an example of some well-known hacker and cracker groups, and these raids were meant to inspire fear and caution. “This is not a sport, this is a crime,” says Phillip Bond new Undersecretary of Commerce for Technology, and illegal distribution of computer programs could result in “serious hard time.”

Universities are the domains of many crackers simply because most of the FBI’s targets are not making profit from the cracking and releasing of software and pirated media, but rather do it for the fun and challenge. Universities provide the bandwidth, facilities, and students generally have the free time to engage in this sort of activity. Universities are not the only targets: the USDOJ press release (#643, FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT TARGETS INTERNATIONAL INTERNET PIRACY SYNDICATES) says the prime candidates include “company insiders” and “criminal enterprises”

The FBI has been investigating this under three different operations, “Buccaneer,” Digital Piratez,” and “Bandwidth” for more than a year, looking for ominous “highly structured and security-conscious criminal groups” that traffic in “software, games, and movies; stripping (“cracking”) copyright protections.” Many in the business of software piracy would be surprised to hear it, as the community is not well known for its wide spread co-operation or predilection for strict hierarchy. This is being erroneously reported by other sources that the “target of the raids was the ‘Warez’ group”(NYT); “Warez” is the generic name for any software goods distributed by an individual, pirated or not- “warez,” “appz,” “crackz,” “hackz,” etc.

Indeed, many crackers see themselves as media Robin Hoods, preventing giant corporate conglomerates from unethical profiting on restrictive and legally untested “shrink wrap” licensees, so called EULAs(end-user licensee agreements). Also, Microsoft, currently in negotiations to settle its massive anti-trust lawsuit with the U.S. government, is a favorite target of crackers for its monopolistic practices, and alleged gouging of its customers.

Recently highly unpopular were the restrictions on windows XP, which required each purchaser to pay for every copy of XP installed, unlike previous versions that allowed the buyer to use windows on multiple machines. Many crackers and hackers are idealistic, highly educated and very young, and rally behind the slogan: “Information should be free!”

More rational interpreters of this approach point out that software, movies, and music are coming under increasingly harsh and restrictive terms of use, and point to “fair-use” provisions in copy-right law. These provisions allow an individual to copy a book for his or her on own use, for instance, but not for re-distribution for profit. Many say that media companies are violating private property rights by not allowing users to do what ever they want with their purchased software or music.

Often, however, cracked software includes games and entertainment that kids simply don’t want to pay for, and many companies feel they are losing great sums of money. Industry spokesmen point out that they have invested in the development of these products and that fair-use must be re-defined in the digital age, where one Internet posting can reach millions of people in a few hours.

The industry claims losses of 12 billion dollars per year due to piracy overseas. The FBI is not targeting the re-sellers of cracked software, admitting that that they money “is farther down the food chain,” and has concentrated its efforts on the people who do the actual removal of copy protection and encryption.

By Carl Brooks

About the Contributor
Carl Brooks served as news editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2003-2004