Viewpoint: There You Go!

LSM's Kārlis Streips looks at the case of the alleged 'Imanta hacker' which involved a lengthy trans-Atlantic extradition battle.

"I knew that what I was doing was unlawful." These words came from Deniss Calovskis, born and bred in Latvia, and someone who not all that long ago was the same person who claimed in the newspaper in our country which tried to create the greatest fuss about his arrest that he had no idea why the special services detained him nearly three years ago, adding: "I have read in the newspapers that I supposedly committed a crime."

This was said to create the impression that everything was some kind of misunderstanding, and the special services (not just from Latvia alone) simply wanted to arrest someone, and the young man happened to be in their way. Whoops, stuff happens.

"I knew that what I was doing was unlawful," however, were words that were not spoken in an unimportant newspaper somewhere in Europe's periphery. They were spoken at a federal court in Manhattan in the United States, where Calovskis was tried for his participation in designing the so-called Gozi virus.

As could be expected (and as the employees of the aforementioned newspaper would have known if they had asked someone who really knows about the situation), prosecutors in America had no plans to throw the young man into prison for 68 years, as easily upset people in our country claimed. Back then I wrote that the longest prison term to which anyone had been sentenced for much larger computer-related crimes was 20 years behind bars.

That was one Albert Gonzalez who, with others, stole 90 million credit and debit card numbers in the operation "Become rich or die trying." In the case of Deniss Calovskis, according to the media, the virus infected one million computers throughout the world and caused tens of millions of dollars in losses.

The court in New York will hand down its ruling in December, but it has been reported that Calovskis and the prosecutors agreed on what the prosecutors wanted the most -- he would tell them how all of that happened, and so he would get a fairly gentle sentence, perhaps two years and perhaps discounting the time that he has already spent behind bars. This may be the main thing -- law enforcement officials will learn what kinds of methods were used to create the Gozi virus so that they could protect themselves against similar crimes in future.

The truth is that we can be happy about the fact that Latvia decided at the end of the day to extradite Deniss Calovskis for a trial in America (and here it is worth knowing that Romania decided at the end of the day not to extradite its own "Deniss Calovskis"). That is because cybercrime, at the end of the day, is something that can affect nearly every one of us, and not in a positive sense. In reading this text, dear reader, you are linked to the Worldwide Web. That means that your computer is linked to a very broad network in which not everyone who is taking part is a nice and kind person.

My computer has anti-virus software which, each time that it notes that I am about to enter a password somewhere on the Internet, announces that thanks to it, I will be doing so under super duper safe circumstances, and no one will be able to track what I am doing.

There is another piece of software which, quite frequently every day, proudly announces that it has discovered and prevented a harmful link to something else. I do not know whether before I bought that software, my computer happily established harmful links with something else, and nothing really terrible happened to my computer even before purchasing the software, but at some level I nevertheless feel a greater sense of security.

That is because a few years ago, I received an E-mail from a hacker who told me in rather great detail about what had been happening in my bank account. I called the police, and the person was quickly found and stopped, but that was very unpleasant nevertheless, because I somehow had wanted to think that the bank, above all others, would have the highest level of protection against hackers.

The guilty plea by Deniss Calovskis shows that that is not always so. Hackers in our world can be divided up into several segments. There are those who dig around on the Web for their own delight, looking for what they can find and where they can form links. Others supposedly act on behalf of noble deeds, as was the case with Julian Assange, Bradley (Chelsea) Cooper and others who broke into government computer networks and downloaded countless numbers of various documents that made many politicians, diplomats and others sweat and blush.

There are also, however, those who, as I mentioned, have the goal of "getting rich or dying while doing so." These people work quite hard in trying to steal credit card and other data to use them for their own needs. Another story from my own life.

A few months ago, the VISA credit card company signalled to me that I should ring it up, because the company had noticed questionable transactions with my credit card. I rang, and the lady told me that someone had used my credit card number at a bar in West Virginia in the United States. Was that me? No, at that time I was in Latvia and busy with translating and writing blogs. How could that have happened? The lady from VISA said that there are companies in the United States that don't worry about "petty issues" like a password. If you have the credit card number, that's enough. The story ended when my credit card was annulled, and VISA sent me a new one. The criminal had not spent any large sum of money with my card, but it was nevertheless unpleasant.

An old saying tells us that God helps those who help themselves, and this is an area in which those are truly golden words. If you use your computer to graze in the global meadows of the Internet, and your computer does not have a proper (by which I mean bought, as opposed to downloaded from God knows where) anti-virus and anti-Trojan horse programme in your computer, then the issue is not whether you will be attacked, but when that will happen.

Of course, you can say that you own nothing much, and your account does not have enough money to tempt anyone to steal it, but even a small sum stolen from your ATM card by someone who has discovered your ATM password would be quite unpleasant, right?

"I knew that what I was doing was unlawful," Deniss Calovskis announced at the American court. That probably does not do much for the many people whose computers were infected "thanks" to the wicked deeds of Calovskis and his "colleagues," but it tells all of the rest of us that yes, there are people with truly evil intentions in this world, and it is very good that law enforcement agencies monitor all of this and bring the criminals to justice.

God really does help those who help themselves, but it is very positive that we are not all alone in this regard. Very few of us are really computer specialists. To be perfectly honest, I have no real idea how it is that here in Riga, I can look at a homepage in America or Sudan, no real idea how an E-mail that I write in Riga ends up in my sister's account in Chicago. People like Deniss Calovskis use this lack of knowledge quite maliciously." "I knew that what I was doing was unlawful." It is very good that someone noticed.

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