This month Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital disclosed that hackers infiltrated its computer system, and they infected them with malware making the computer system inaccessible. The hackers originally demanded 3.4 million to remove the malware to give control back to the hospital. Although not paying the initial demand, The hospital did take the extraordinary step of capitulating and paying a $17,000 ransom to the hackers. In true cyber fashion, the ransom was paid in Bitcoins, a cyber currency.
This case is it is possibly a forbearer of the future of criminal activity in this cyber age. Let’s face it, the internet is not going away, and it is only become more entrenched in our lives every year. It would stand to reason that cyber crimes are here to stay and would likely continue to constitute a greater bulk of law enforcement’s resources to combat those crimes in the coming decades. From a criminal defense perspective, this opens up a new world of litigation. For example, a new breed of search warrants dealing with tracking and monitoring your internet presence; following your every move or keystroke as log into various sites; or even recording your keystrokes to ascertain code and communications with other entities. All of these things raise privacy concerns which will no doubt be litigated in the courts.
The other issue is that local law enforcement will likely not have the resources to combat such attacks from cyber criminals, leaving the major crime units in the states and federal government potentially overwhelmed to combat the threat. It is clear from the attack on Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital that the hackers act fast and when law enforcement is alerted, the damage is already done. Moreover, the challenge of locating the perpetrators is another hurtle altogether. This also poses a serious jurisdictional issue since often times the hackers operate out of safe havens out of the reach of local law enforcement in the jurisdiction where the attach occurs. Often, these hackers will operate out of a countries like Russia and China where the federal and state government do not have the power to capture them.
Certainly there are host of challenges for law enforcement in this domain, but what are the solutions? Simply put, law enforcement must join them. Whether it is infiltrating a major drug operation or taking down various types of organized crime, the government employs informants and undercover agents in each of these instances. Now, many of these hacking groups are fragmented and live a fickle existence. Nonetheless, there are many young talents in this field that if the federal and state government wish to seriously combat these cyber criminals they must use some form of infiltration to gain intelligence in this area in an effort to prevent such attacks.
What does this mean for the criminal defense practice? Rest assured, this is not the death of street crimes, far from it. On the contrary, it offers an interesting opportunity for firms specializing in white collar crimes to expand their practice representing individuals accused of hacking. An even greater question is whether we as attorneys will be begin to accept retainers in Bitcoins in such instances.