Thursday, October 3, 2013

Chris Larson - Assignment #2: Analysis of an Online Crime

The wordy title of the article says it all, "How a Russian cybercriminal tried to frame me with a Bitcoin Heroin deal." The article appeared on The Guardian's website on July 31 of this year and it describes the rather peculiar harassment attempts by some devoted followers of cyber security journalist, Brain Krebs.

The crime began on a forum in which a user by the name of "flycracker" decided to make up a story about Krebs being a heroin addict and then started a "Helping Brian Fund" in order to create a Bitcoin wallet called "Drugs for Krebs" in which he would use the money raised to purchase 1 gram of "the purest heroin on the Silk Road" in order to "help" Brian with his withdrawal symptoms. . Flycracker managed to purchase twelve 100mg bags of heroin (the seller was offering a buy 10 get 2 free deal). He then told the other followers when the heroin would arrive and asked if someone else could make a call to the local police when it arrived in an effort to frame him. Krebs, being aware of the forum, alerted authorities in advance. And two days later he received a package, hand delivered by the local mailman, with a Chicago magazine and 13 packets of heroin taped to the back (the dealer threw in an extra bag for good measure).

It would appear that the disinhibition factors at work here include invisibility and asynchronicity, but, most importantly, dissociative anonymity. Flycracker was a pseudonymous online persona. The user behind the screen name was unknown and he knew this. As a result, flycracker felt a level of immunity because whatever he did could not be traced back to him. So if he wanted to ruin Brian Krebs life, he could do so and not have to worry that the cops would come busting through his front door. Without that anonymity, the risk of even conspiring to buy drugs online would be too high just to pull a sadistic prank on Krebs.

I also believe asynchronicity and invisibility also factor into this behavior but to a lesser extent. Given that flycracker had access to the Internet's black market, it is also likely that he is engaging in other illicit activity and if that is the case, it is less likely that being seen would stop him from say buying drugs. Anonymity would be of more value to an individual like that than physical presence or seeing the immediate consequences of his actions would. Thus, dissociative anonymity would be the main contributor to flycracker's behavior.

For those of you who do not know, the Silk Road is the black market of the Internet as it allows the exchange of illicit materials online. It was seized by the FBI earlier this week.

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