These days, a sexy, offbeat hacker is a movie trope — a recent example Rihanna’s portrayal of “Nine Ball” in the glamorous Ocean’s Eight. Armed with laptops in chunky cases, these hackers use a few keystrokes to hack into government databases, museum security systems, and the like, dazzling their accomplices and defying the authorities.
In real life, however, the FBI’s Cyber Division would be on the case, working to investigate such hacking incidents as well as intellectual property theft, online fraud, child pornography and exploitation, and Darknet marketplaces, where your stolen personal data gets sold along with other unsavory items.
Initially organized in July 2002, today’s Cyber Division includes specially trained “cyber squads” at FBI Headquarters and the agency’s fifty-six field offices, along with additional action teams and task forces. The division works in concert with cybercrime divisions at other agencies, such as the Secret Service and ICE, and also collaborates with state and local authorities.
The AlphaBay shutdown
Recent headlines have sounded the alarm about brain drain within the division following several high-profile departures to the private sector, and a recent audit found the FBI fell short of its goals for “disrupting or dismantling” cybercrime operations in 2017. Still, there have been high-profile wins, including the shutdown of Darknet marketplace AlphaBay in July 2017. Prior to its takedown, AlphaBay — accessible via the Tor network — had more than 250,000 listings for illegal drugs and upward of 100,000 listings for stolen data, malware and other illegal goods.
Quite an empire, right? However, the Cyber Division caught AlphaBay founder Alexandre Cazes thanks to a couple of simple slip-ups. His email address “Pimp_Alex_91@hotmail.com” was listed in AlphaBay’s welcome email—and used for a PayPal account tied to Canadian bank accounts in his name. In addition, he kept a list of his luxury properties and cars on an unencrypted laptop. Oops. “Nine Ball” wouldn’t have made those mistakes.
Photo: Marija Stojkovic/Shutterstock.