Microsoft Takes to the Front Lines in the War on Cybercrime

Digital Crime Units helped take down seven major botnets last year.

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By Edward Jones • Feb 2, 2014 Originally published Feb 2, 2014

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The global cost of cybercrime in 2013 was estimated by McAfee to be upwards of $300 billion. One in five small businesses have now been on the receiving end of an attack and every day one million more individuals become victims of cyber-criminal activity. The internet is under attack, and we are the targets.

Stepping up to fight the cyber war, Microsoft unveiled a new state of the art Cybercrime Center specifically designed to battle botnets, malware and other various forms of internet crime. Inside its new headquarters, Microsoft's Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) is actively disrupting some of the most serious cybercrime threats currently facing modern society. This crack team of international technical and legal experts are working around the clock with the express aim of making the internet a safer place, and not without some success.

Related: Microsoft's Safe Bet: Nadella Named CEO, Gates Appointed Tech Advisor

Last year alone, the Digital Crimes Unit reported the destruction of seven major botnets, with its largest victory coming in December. In collaboration with the FBI, Europol and industry partners, Microsoft announced the disruption of the notorious ZeroAccess botnet.

Widely reported as one of the world's largest botnets, ZeroAccess was hijacking search results and redirecting users to shady websites where their personal details were subsequently stolen. Through infected computers, ZeroAccess was also targeting online advertisers by registering fraudulent web clicks. This fraudulent activity at its peak cost online advertisers approximately $2.7 million per month. The takedown of this botnet is a major victory in the fight on cybercrime.

Richard Boscovich, assistant general counsel for Microsoft's Digital Crimes Unit (DCU), demonstrates that cutting-edge tools and technologies are not the only avenue through which Microsoft is making headway. In 2011, Boscovich closed down one of the world's largest spambots, which was infecting in excess of 2.5 million computers per day, using a novel legal approach.

By asking a judge for a temporary restraining order against the spammers, they were required to appear in court and defend themselves. Unsurprisingly, the spammers were a no show. Microsoft won by default and were able to seize the computer servers that were responsible for infecting all the computers.

Related: Target's Security Breach Stresses the Need for Better Cyber Security

When asked about the success, Boscovich responded, "They were basic common law principles, used in a totally unique way to address 21st century problems." He continued, "I never envisioned seizing computer servers used as a botnet command and control center by using the Lanham Act's trademark violations."

One of the biggest issues with cybercrime is that it is transnational. Using the internet as their avenue of attack, cybercriminals are no longer restricted by geographical boundaries. These malicious hackers may reside and operate in one country while performing simultaneous attacks on multiple victims and organizations across the globe.

As such, no one organization can battle cybercrime -- to be successful in the fight there must be a global alliance. Using its global footprint, Microsoft has the ability to cross international boundaries and tackle cybercrime by collaborating with local law enforcement.

Ultimately, everyone is a target, and with 50 percent of online adults affected by cybercrime in the last year (some unknowingly), it's only a matter of time until you're in the crosshairs. Education can be another weapon in the fight on cybercrime. Through Microsoft's safety and security center you can learn essential security tactics to protect yourself online. You can also download the latest antivirus tools, activate security features for your Windows Operating System and even read up on the latest phishing scams circulating the web.

Related: 5 No-Brainer Tips to Avoid Getting Hacked

Edward Jones

Technical writer at Firebrand Training

Edward Jones works for Firebrand Training as a technical writer. Edward has experience with a range of Microsoft technologies and operating systems. He writes for a variety of blogs and technical publications on all things technology.

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