October 18, 2005
Internet Forensics: Behind the Scams--How to Follow the Clues at an Internet Crime Scene
Sebastopol, CA--It's a hotbed of fraud, spammers, and identity theft, but,
undaunted, we spend more and more of our time (and money) on the Internet.
Few of us consider the "threats" it proffers to be more than a nuisance,
forgetting that there's real criminal intent behind them targeting some of
the most vulnerable members of our society. We overlook the content in
spam messages because we already know them to be scams. But, while we
would never click on a link in an email to update our password and social
security number for a bank account, many people do. As Robert Jones points
out in his book Internet Forensics (O'Reilly, US $39.95), we continue to
get spam because there are people making money doing it. Conventional
wisdom says that you can't track these people down because the Internet is
so large and it's so easy to hide one's identity. But Jones says
otherwise, and shows readers how to follow the clues the bad guys leave
"Internet fraud is at an all time high and showing no signs of slowing
down," says Jones. And the statistics on these threats are amazing.
"MessageLabs, a company that provides email security services, reported
that spam accounted for 73% of all email traffic in 2004 and that phishing
scams, that try to con people our of their bank account information,
increased from 250,000 in the first half of 2004 to 4,500,000 by the end
of the year--an 18-fold increase!"
There are several factors behind this seemingly unstoppable growth:
Internet scams don't cost much to set up, the potential audience is huge,
and the chance of being caught is low. Even if a scammer is caught, the
likelihood of being prosecuted is minimal. But the main motivation, as
Jones repeatedly points out, is that people can and do make money with
Out of curiosity, Jones began looking into various scams that arrived in
his inbox. Being fairly adept at using Unix commands, he started to apply
these to find out where certain web sites were located and was surprised
at how much information could be uncovered using a few basic techniques.
Anyone can do this, he says; you don't need to work for the FBI or an ISP.
"There was no single resource that described how to use these tools for
forensics, but clearly a great deal of interest on the web about Internet
fraud. So, I decided to organize these tools and techniques and present
them to a wider audience in the form of the book."
Internet Forensics presents that tools that the community of Internet
users and developers can use to tackle the problem. "Law enforcement is
making progress, but the scale of the problem is too large for them,"
observes Jones. "If we, as a community, can make it harder for the bad
guys to operate, they'll be forced to either give up or become much more
sophisticated in their tactics."
Jones uses the analogy of a Neighborhood Watch: people in a neighborhood
walk their dogs, chat with each other, and generally keep an eye out for
anything that looks unusual. They're not organized in any way, but the
simple fact that they're out there is a serious disincentive to dodgy
characters looking to cause trouble. "The same thing can happen on the
Internet with a bunch of regular people keeping an eye out for trouble.
Collectively, we can make it more difficult for scammers to do business,"
says Jones. "I call it a Network Neighborhood Watch."
Over and above these noble goals, Internet Forensics is a whole lot of
fun. "At every step you need to use your ingenuity to figure out how a
scam is being set up and, especially, to look for patterns across multiple
scams that act as signatures for the same individuals or groups
responsible for the scams," says Jones. "People like solving puzzles like
this. You get to play the armchair detective."
Internet Forensics is a practical and accessible guide to this
fascinating field. Learn how the bad guys try to cover their tracks and
the tricks we can use to see through their disguises. The book is packed
with real-world examples explained in detail that show how much you can
find out with ingenuity and a little work--and have fun doing it.
ISBN: 0-596-10006-X, 223 pages, $39.95 US, $55.95 CA
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