Legal shorts: BlackShades bandit nabbed, a rising ocean of debt, and local jails become debtors' prisons
Malware purveyor pleads guilty, faces jail time
One of the criminals behind the BlackShades malware construction kit has pleaded guilty in a federal court in Manhattan to distribution of malicious software. Reuters' Nate Raymond reports in a February 19, 2015, article that 24-year-old Swedish national Alex Yucel was reportedly the mastermind behind BlackShades, which was used to infect hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide.
As part of his plea deal, Yucel has agreed to waive his right to appeal if he receives a sentence of less than seven-and-a-quarter years in prison; his sentencing is scheduled for May 22. BlackShades software was sold for $40 and was used by criminals to control their victims' computers remotely, record keystrokes, steal personal information, and lock the computers until a ransom was paid.
BlackShades reportedly generated $350,000 in revenue for its creators, who were caught by a fake website created by the FBI for buying and selling stolen credit-card numbers. Yucel was arrested in Moldova in November 2013 and extradited to the U.S. to face trial.
Cybercrimes against property are on the rise, according to researchers, but exact numbers are difficult to come by because the FBI doesn't track online propery crime, credit-card fraud, or identity theft, according to researchers at the University of New Haven and the State University of New York at Albany. Their research into cybercrime underreporting is cited in a February 20, 2015, article on the Phys.org site.
Many cybercrimes are "handled" by the private-corporation victims rather than by the police. In fact, few such crimes are ever reported to law enforcement agencies. The researchers claim that more than half of the people who are victims of online fraud and data theft are never informed of the crimes. Companies are more interested in protecting their reputations, according to the researchers, who state that the dearth of information about cybercrimes makes fighting it more difficult.
Since 2007, the amount of money owed by everyone -- government, businesses, people -- has increased by $57 trillion, according to research reported by McKinley earlier this month. That's a 40.1 percent increase. As Neil Irwin of the New York Times points out in a February 5, 2015, article, financial institutions in the U.S. are actually less leveraged now than they were in 2007, but private debt in the U.S. economy is up 16 percent since 2007 to 233 percent of gross domestic product.
Kate Aronoff writes in a February 7, 2015, article on the Common Dreams site that according to Kingston University economist Steve Keen, any country whose private debt ratio exceeds 150 percent of GDP is vulnerable to financial calamity. (Keen was one of the few economists who predicted the 2008 financial crisis.) Japan's private debt ratio stands at 400 percent, the UK's at 350 percent, and China's at 217 percent.
Aronoff points out that the government's response to the 2008 crisis was to pump more money into the financial institutions whose carelessness precipitated the crash. In recent years, funding for public services has dried up, creating what the Guardian's Ross Ashcroft calls "backdoor privatization." Privatization cuts wages, which ultimately leads to increased debt.
Speaking of debt, a report issued earlier this month by the Vera Institute of Justice found that most of the people held in local and county jails in the U.S. are there for minor offenses for which they could be released if they could afford to pay the court-imposed costs. The New York Times' Timothy Williams discusses the report's findings in a February 11, 2015, article.
The good news is that programs are underway across the U.S. intended to reduce jail time for minor offenses. CNN's Sally Kohn reports in a February 23, 2015, article on the Smart Sentencing Act that has won bipartisan support in Congress but that has been stalled by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Ia.
In addition to emphasizing prevention through employment and education, the reform efforts address the drug, alcohol, and mental-illness problems that afflict so many of the repeat offenders whose incarceration has become such a burden. While many of these programs have focused to date on state prisons, many jail inmates could benefit from the reforms as well.