By Jan Ravensbergen
Canwest News Service
February 20, 2008
MONTREAL -- Quebec provincial police said Wednesday they have dismantled
what they called the largest and most damaging computer-hacking network
ever uncovered in Canada.
During several action-packed early-morning hours Wednesday, provincial
police and RCMP officers dismantled the latest hacking ring by
successfully carrying out 17 lightning-fast raids in 12 towns small and
large across Quebec, including Montreal.
They collared 17 hacking suspects aged 17 to 26. All are male except for
one, a 19-year-old woman.
Some of the suspects were to appear in court Wednesday while others were
released with the promise to appear.
Police raiding parties also sealed and carted away dozens of hard drives
and other computer components from the homes of each of the suspects.
This hardware is believed to contain the smoking guns -- a bonanza of
incriminating data to document the alleged ring, said SQ Capt. Frederick
Gaudreau, lead investigator.
"This is a new form of organized crime," he proclaimed to reporters
summoned to SQ headquarters in Montreal.
Savvy youngsters who've grown up with computers can take advantage of
lax or inattentive users connected via broadband to the Internet.
That's what this ring did, Capt. Gaudreau alleged, adding that its
operators extended their electronic tentacles from some of Quebec's
smaller towns to seize control, via sophisticated remote-access
software, of almost a million computers in more than 100 countries.
With so-called Trojan-horse and worm software, poorly protected
computers can be hijacked and turned into so-called zombies, even while
their users wonder why their Internet connection has slowed so
The hackers, Capt. Gaudreau alleged, used these hijacking techniques to
carry out identity theft, data theft of other kinds, spamming and
These acts caused an estimated $45-million in damages, Capt. Gaudreau
added, to governments, businesses and individuals.
He refused to provide any further breakdown, such as an estimate of the
volume of financial fraud committed.
The country's most notorious hacker to date was a 15-year-old Montrealer
with the handle Mafiaboy.
The law provides a maximum of 10 years behind bars for illegal use of
computer services -- but after crippling some of the world's most
heavily trafficked Web sites eight years ago, Mafiaboy ended up with
just eight months in youth detention.
Capt. Gaudreau issued repeated pleas for computer users to keep their
anti-virus software up-to-date and to properly configure network
Victims of the ring had neglected to do one or both -- opening the door
for the ring's kingpins to plant malicious software programs with
impunity, he alleged.
Each of the hackers detained Wednesday surreptitiously controlled an
average of about 5,000 computers, Capt. Gaudreau alleged.
The victims were largely -- but not exclusively -- located outside
Canada, he said.
The ring required "hundreds" of officers from the SQ and the RCMP to
take down, he added.
The probe began in 2006, he said, following complaints from government
agencies, businesses and individuals.
Painstaking forensic audits of thousands of gigabytes of computer data
seized will now be required before provincial police can write the final
chapter of this Internet saga.
Police expect the necessary evidence is likely to be served up on the
dozens of computer hard drives confiscated Wednesday, Capt. Gaudreau
Many of the victims documented by investigators were located in Poland,
Brazil and Mexico, he added.
Seven of those arrested Wednesday have been charged with illegally
obtaining computer services, an offence that carries a maximum penalty
of 10 years in prison.
Further charges against these seven could follow, Gaudreau said,
depending on the data found on their computers.
Others were released after questioning, Gaudreau said, and haven't been
charged but may face charges later.
The 17, communicating with each other largely via Internet, each
operated with multiple computers, Capt. Gaudreau alleged, from 17
locations in 12 cities, towns and hamlets across the province.
Copyright 2007 CanWest Interactive
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