The US has started to put bounties on the heads of hackers

The US has started to put bounties on the heads of hackers

WASHINGTON – The FBI considers Evgeniy Bogachev one of the world’s most prolific and brilliant cyber criminals, slapping his photos – bald, beefy-faced and smiling faintly – on « Wanted » fliers posted online. The Russian would be an ideal target for prosecution – if only the Justice Department could find him.

Unable to capture him in the 10 months since his indictment, the government has turned to a time-honored technique long used for more conventional crime: putting a bounty on Bogachev’s head.

It’s too soon to say whether the $3 million reward for information leading to his arrest, offered under a special State Department program, will pay off. But federal officials say they intend to use the strategy in additional cyber cases involving international hackers whose whereabouts are either unknown to the U.S. government or who are holed up in nations that have little or no diplomatic relations with the United States.

« We’ve really not done something like this » in cyber cases, Robert Anderson, an FBI executive assistant director, said in announcing the reward. « All of a sudden, somebody’s putting an `x’ on somebody, saying, `Bring him to justice, you get $3 million.' »

The reward is also a reminder of how many accused masterminds of cyberattacks on U.S. targets remain out of reach for law enforcement.

Five Chinese military officials were indicted last spring on charges of siphoning away corporate secrets from computer systems of major American business. Federal officials say they’re committed to bringing them to justice, but they won’t speak publicly about what they’re doing to nab them. Experts are skeptical that the military officials will ever see the inside of a courtroom.

Roman Zolotarev, charged in Nevada with masterminding a massive underworld marketplace of credit card fraud and identity theft, also is not in federal custody, even though lower-level members of the operation, called Carder.Su, have been convicted.

The culprits behind the Sony Pictures Entertainment hacking have not been publicly identified, though the FBI has linked it to the North Korean government.

Some defense lawyers for more peripheral players charged in cybercrimes have seized on the absence of accused ringleaders, highlighting a potential vulnerability in the government’s cases. The argument was raised in the 2013 trial of David Ray Camez, who was ultimately sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in the organization.

« And they talk about all these people that created, the real people, the bad guys in this case, where are they at? » Camez’s lawyer, Chris Rasmussen, told jurors. « They don’t have any of these Russians here. There’s no Russians in this courtroom. Where are they? »

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