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Koobface, The dangerous game of naming and shaming

There has been wide coverage of the naming and shaming of the supposedly perpetrators behind the Koobface botnet that has affected Facebook and other social sites for a few years.

The gang leader was first named on Dancho Danchev’s blog, then the Facebook’s security team threaten and did reveal the gang’s real identity, the New York times even ran an article on it and finally Sophos published another in-depth look at how they also discovered their identity. In between, many other sites jumped in to share that information.

I am slightly uncomfortable with this approach.

It appeared to have worked in this instance as the bonnet Command & Centre has been turned off, and it also appears they named the right persons; but what if all those blogs/researchers made a mistake!? It would have been nothing more than a smear campaign that could have affected the lives of some innocent internet users.

This tactic is used by the police in some countries, so they can catch “real” criminals on the run. They name and shame, appealing for help from the public and thus making it more difficult for them to cary on with their illegal activities.
By “real” I mean criminals in the traditional sense of the term, who have broken the law physically as opposed to virtually. But as our lives become more and more entangled with the virtual world, criminal activities “there” can and do have an impact “here”.

Where I think there is a difference, is that the police conducts a thorough investigation before naming and shaming, more importantly they follow an established, documented and legally sound process to conduct such investigation. Although those security researchers are experts in their own right (pun intended), it is a dangerous game to become a vigilante…

To conclude, I am not fundamentally against this practise but I am concern it could spiral out of control. It also highlights how difficult it is to bring hackers to stop their activities as, this, is some kind of last resort solution.

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