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The Internet Police: How Crime Went Online, and the Cops Followed [Kindle Edition]

Nate Anderson

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Book Description

Chaos and order clash in this riveting exploration of crime and punishment on the Internet.

Once considered a borderless and chaotic virtual landscape, the Internet is now home to the forces of international law and order. It's not just computer hackers and cyber crooks who lurk in the dark corners of the Web--the cops are there, too.

In The Internet Police, Ars Technica editor Nate Anderson takes readers on a behind-the-screens tour of landmark cybercrime cases, revealing how criminals continue to find digital and legal loopholes even as police hurry to cinch them closed.

From the Cleveland man whose "natural male enhancement" pill inadvertently protected the privacy of your e-mail to the Russian spam king who ended up in a Milwaukee jail to the Australian arrest that ultimately led to the breakup of the largest child pornography ring in the United States, Anderson draws on interviews, court documents, and law-enforcement reports to reconstruct accounts of how online policing actually works.

Questions of online crime are as complex and interconnected as the Internet itself. With each episode in The Internet Police, Anderson shows the dark side of online spaces--but also how dystopian a fully "ordered" alternative would be.

Product Description


A brisk, eminently readable, and important history of the relationship between law, law enforcement, and the net, and as you'd expect, it's excellent. Anderson's reporting career has exposed him to innumerable cases of fascinating and horrifying networked shenanigans, and he cherry-picks the most interesting stories to tell, and tells them well, and uses each one to paint a broader picture of how the attempt to impose law and lawfulness on the Internet has unfolded at every turn. --Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing

About the Author

Nate Anderson is a senior editor at Ars Technica. His work has been published in The Economist and Foreign Policy. Twitter: @NateXAnderson

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 852 KB
  • Print Length: 311 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (12 Aug. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00AR3544M
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #293,933 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars very good examination of internet governance 9 Aug. 2013
By J. Caneday - Published on
I was privileged to read a pre-release edition of this book. My review is, of course, based on this edition, and the final work may vary from it.

Anderson does a great job of chronicling how criminals have begun using the internet, how the police followed them, and how the internet has changed as a result of both.

The book deals primarily with fraud, extortion, child porn, spam, and piracy. One of the most interesting tales from the book is of how voyeurs are able to gain control of a user's computer and webcam, and often get pictures or video of the naked user and then use the material to extort further material from them. This is a novel, and frightening use of the internet, which I'd not heard of before.

Anderson tells the stories of many people through the book and their roles in online crime--whether criminal, victim, cop, judge, lawmaker, etc. As he tells the stories, he asks the question, "How can we maintain a police presence on the internet without loosing anarchy, while still catching the crooks, without succumbing to totalitarianism?"

This question, though not explicitly asked until toward the end of the book, is constantly in mind throughout the book. In fact, the entire book is really attempting to find a proper balance between "productive chaos" and police powers online. One of the most interesting things in the book is the revelation that many of the most vital tools that criminals use online was in fact created by the US Navy. The tool, "TOR" (The Onion Router), actually requires others to use it--for good or ill, in order for the tool to have a legitimate use by the Navy, and other intelligence agencies. Without others using it, nations would immediately recognize the presence of government or the military at work.

Anderson rightly realizes that the only way all online crime could be dealt with, would be in a totalitarian regime. Unless we are willing to bear this cost, we must keep a wary eye on the state, lest we fall to tyranny. This is the conclusion of the book, all written prior to Edward Snowden's recent revelations. Anderson, of course, anticipates such a use of the internet by governments. Hopefully he was able to update the book some for its official release.

This is a great book on how the internet has evolved due to its criminal use. I highly recommend it, as it is a critical topic to discuss as we face the realization that our own government has such powerful tools to spy on its own citizens.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but Also A Bit Basic 22 Aug. 2013
By Loyd E. Eskildson - Published on
The Internet has three features making it especially difficult to control in any centralized way: 1)Having relatively few gatekeepers (ISPs) means the Internet is not well-suited for centralized surveillance and law enforcement. 2)Attempts to control Internet content requires dealing with many countries and legal environments. 3)The Internet was built without any mean of validating identity; this is further complicated by the possibility of digital payments via anonymous services, and forwarding servers deliberately configured to mask the original source of a message.

Investigators learn something each time they shut down a site - unfortunately for them, so do the criminals. Police in multiple nations are often involved - especially in cases involving child pornography. Fortunately for investigators, child pornography is one of the few online activities condemned everywhere. The 'bad news' for some (eg. film pirates) is that once Internet providers implement technology to block child pornography, it's much easier for courts to also order them to block access to film piracy sources as well. Online poker sites, some YouTube links, Wikipedia entries, fringe religions, and euthanasia sites have also been blocked - throwing free-speech die-hards into fits.

The 'Privacy on the Computer' chapter reports on hackers seeding peer-to-peer file-sharing networks like LimeWire with malware titled as popular-sounding song titles. When downloaded and opened, the recipient computers come under external control. This control cold include key-loggers, as well as software that could turn on any webcams and microphones built into the infected computers. For those less sophisticated, tool kits make it simple to infect 'slave' computers with remote access tool (RAT), with only modest technical skill. It's also possible to just pay for a list of already compromised slaves. Because many computers are on continuously, motion-detection capability that sends pictures/video only after motion is detected is also available.

Computrace is a small, stealthy piece of code that can be installed on Windows computers. When connected to the Internet, the computer pings staff at Absolute Software at regular internals, providing the current IP address. If the computer is reported as stolen, an investigator could turn the IP information over to police. However, since determining a physical address associated with the IP is sometimes too tedious for police to bother with, Absolute can also remotely install its own RAT tools. Similarly, PC rental entities often install like software on computers they rent out. And of course law enforcement agencies have their own versions, and can easily overstep legal bounds - given the latest news about NSA's flaunting court orders, this probably happens more often than we'd think.

Botnets can infect thousands or even millions of computers around the globe. Botnet controllers take these networks and pass them specific pieces of spam, along with e-mail addresses to contact - all untraceable to the actual botnet owner. The Mega-D botnet infected over 500,000 computers and was at one point estimated to account for 32% of all spam. Its owner supposedly made $500,000 during 6 months in 2007 from just one client. Blockades don't work against botnet spam because it originates from so many sources. Mega-D's owner was eventually identified and arrested for sending ads promoting fraudulent products when he left Russia and traveled to Las Vegas.

Early spammers were easy to block, but soon learned to arrange for multiple contingency-servers, switching from one to another after the unit in use was blocked. Then came real-time black-hole spam-producer lists, used by numerous subscribers. The next development was the use of 'open relays' - servers that accepted messages from any machine instead of just registered members, and forwarded them to any other server. Hundreds of thousands of IT administrators made this error and it took years to overcome the problem.

The year 2003 brought customized spam-sending 'rat-ware' that usually exploited Windows security flaws. Legal civil action against those creating the problems was too slow and expensive; even identifying the spammers was difficult - averaging 133 hours for each one in a federal effort.

A 'Do Not E-mail' registry proposal was dropped because, unlike phone calls, spam couldn't be tracked with any reliability, and most originated in nations with little interest in helping U.S. efforts to reduce spam. An estimated 86% of global e-mail in 2005 was spam, rising to 89% in 2010, wasting vast amounts of Internet capacity. In early 2012, seven of the ten largest spamming operations identified by U.K.'s SpamHaus were believed to be in Eastern Europe. Domain names identified as command-and-control servers used bogus contact information. SpamHaus estimates there are only about 100 hard-core spammers left. Microsoft and others are increasingly suppressing entire botnets by cutting off their command-and-control servers and removing malware on user computers.

Moving on to illicit products vended via Internet, author Anderson reports finding a heroin source took only 5 minutes, and involved servers in the U.S., U.K. Germany, Switzerland, and India. The 'Silk Road' site operates brazenly by accepting no cash or credit, relying instead on anonymous, encrypted digital currency (Bitcoin), telling buyers to encrypt their mailing addresses and providing links to accomplish that, and using an 'onion routing' server service - Thor. Originally Thor was developed via military funding to help investigators/spies keep their origin locations secret.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Catching criminals on the web 19 Sept. 2013
By R. Larson - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I rated this 5* because I found it very interesting, describing how the various authorities (police, FBI, TSA, ...) deal with very broad (national and international) criminal activity, and the obstacles they must overcome. One justification for the rating is that I finished reading it, which often doesn't happen with books I download from Amazon because they sound like something I should read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific! 9 Dec. 2013
By Pauline King - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book was very well written - not getting bogged down in techno-speak. It was interesting starting with the first page and I hated to put it down.
4.0 out of 5 stars Keeping up with the landmark cybercrime cases... 18 Feb. 2014
By Ilya Grigorik - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
The book covers a variety of landmark cybercrime cases over the past decade: child pornography, music and other forms of piracy, fraud, spam, plus a few others. If you're in the tech / security fields, chances are you won't anything new -- the book simply catalogues the cases and highlights how our existing institutions have struggle to keep up with the times.

For those interested in a more in-depth discussion on the legal aspects of internet and cross-border governance, you may want to check out "Who controls the internet?" by Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu.
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