All but washed out by the glaring PRISM headlines last week was another collaboration between big tech and big government: The announcement of a joint operation between Microsoft and the FBI to bust up a ring of hackers who have stolen millions of dollars from online bank accounts.
There are a few choice differences between what Microsoft says was code-named Operation b54 and PRISM, most notably that Microsoft was bragging about it on its blog.
There, Microsoft called b54 its “most aggressive botnet operation to date,” working with bank leaders, tech industry partners and the FBI to disrupt “a massive cyber threat responsible for stealing people’s online banking information and personal identities.”
Another important difference was that while the controversial warrants that allowed the NSA to gather your grandma’s emails were granted by the secretive FISA court, this operation got the blessing a U.S. District Court in North Carolina.
Still, reading Microsoft’s own words, written last week just as the PRISM scandal broke, gives a clear picture of how corporations like it see a role in law enforcement and keeping the bad guys in check; it’s not a stretch, given recent revelations, to replace talk of cyber-security in the blog post with talk of international security. From Microsoft’s blog post:
-- “This operation marks the first time that law enforcement and the private sector have worked together in this way to execute a civil seizure warrant as part of a botnet disruption operation.”
-- “Like many of our past operations, this investigation once again revealed how criminals are adapting and evolving their attack methods in order to continue to infect people’s computers with malware.”
-- “Cooperation is the key to winning the fight against cybercrime, and [we’re] excited about the opportunity we had to work with law enforcement and the other partners involved in this operation and the impact of that cooperative effort.”
-- “Operation b54 serves as a real world example of how public-private cooperation can work effectively within the judicial system, and how 20th century legal precedent and common law principles dating back hundreds of years can be effectively applied toward 21st century cybersecurity issues.”
Bottom line: Crime – be it fraud or terror – is playing out on the net. And when it comes to enforcement, federal agents clearly have Microsoft’s number in their Rolodexes.