Hackers: Who Are They and Why Are They So Hard to Stop?

Computer hacking is big business, striking big business, the U.S. government, even the stock exchange.

Security experts say the criminals are tough to find and prosecute because thy are highly organized, operate underground and often in other countries.

Who’s behind these breaches of security and why can’t they be stopped?

In a recent meeting with local business leaders in Doral, a U.S. Secret Service agent showed clips of satirical videos that these organizations use to recruit hackers all over the world.

The cartoon videos depict hackers getting wealthy by stealing information from unsuspecting Americans, cloning cards and then using them to shop. In the video, they characterize themselves an “Army.”

Silka Gonzalez is president of security firm, Enterprise Management. She says this crime can be “more profitable than drug trafficking and there’s less probability of being caught.”

She explains that these mafia-like organizations are based in places like Russia, Ukraine, China and other countries in Asia. “They may have people working in fifteen different countries,” Gonzalez says. “They might be in Venezuela, in Brazil, in Nigeria, in Italy, in Greece,” she adds.

Hackers are on the ground floor of the organization and penetrate sophisticated computer networks at chains like Target, Home Depot and Neiman Marcus. Once they snatch customers’ private information, they act quickly as the data's shelf life is short. They log onto the underground networks to sell the information before the security breach is discovered and neutralized.

Gonzalez says the value of the information declines because “if it’s like credit card information, after a few days those credit cards are probably going to start being cancelled.”

That is when the net tier, buyers, come in. Their job is to turn the stolen data into cash. “They have to quickly convert that into something,” Gonzalez says, explaining that one way is to clone credit cards and purchase electronics or gift cards that they can turn into cash.

In 2010, three Russian men, Artur Khalatyan, Igor Strishchak and Erdem Tsydenzhapov, were arrested and charged with grand theft. The Broward Sheriff’s office said they used cloned credit cards at three south Florida Home Depot stores. The Secret Service was called in to investigate. Weeks later, Miami Beach police arrested Alexsei Satalov from Estonia after they found $12,420 in the car he was driving. According to this internal memo we obtained, Satalov confessed that the money belonged to an “organized crime group.” The memo said ”he was responsible for continuously re-encoding cards with checking account information stolen from ATM machines and emptying the checking accounts. The currency would then be wired out of the country.” The investigation concluded that the criminal activity laundered “over $1,500,000” using a bank account in San Francisco.

Experts say bringing the perpetrators to justice is tricky. “The difficult thing with this is jurisdiction,” explains Gonzalez. "That’s because each country has its own law and its own way of prosecuting these crimes." That means extraditing criminals is often difficult.. In the U.S., the Secret Service goes after these hackers because they threaten our financial infrastructure. According to Gonzalez, that’s not the only threat. “It could be used during battle and war,” she says, adding that she believes it can also be used by terrorists.

Experts say these criminals usually use unregulated or electronic currency like bitcoin because it is not easily traceable.

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