The Blame Game

I recently learned a new acronym: SODDI (Some Other Dude Did It). What this refers to is the defense that criminals routinely use (plausible deniability) – and even more so when it comes to illicit activities on the Internet.

On Sunday, November 8th 2009 the Associated Press published an article regarding an individual that was accused of possessing child pornography. After 11 months, and at a personal expense of $250,000, computer forensics proved that the computer had become infected with malware that was designed to download illegal content. Malicious software was the culprit at work behind the scenes.

This activity is a topic that had been discussed for quite a few years as a potential liability for any computer that has been infected. Software that is designed to conduct remote operations can surreptitiously download any kind of digital material to a person’s machine or establish connections (or probe/attack) any target. This would cause the owner of the infected computer to appear to have broken one, or more, of many laws including illegally accessing a network, theft of intellectual property (IP) and child pornography – to name a few. Basically, any action that an attacker or criminal can directly perform on the Internet, can also be duplicated and executed from a victim’s computer. The end result is truly horrific for the victims who have to defend themselves when the trail leads to them – and seemingly stops at their computers.

There are numerous examples of this occurring. For instance, substitute school teacher Julie Amero’s life was undeniably, and tragically, altered after the school computer she was using in a 7th grade classroom started displaying pornographic images to her students. After significant expense, loss of a teaching career and other losses she was finally convicted of a lesser charge (in 2008) and a reduced fine.

Cases like these are where several (of many) cybercrime issues converge:

  • Laws: many legal systems still struggle to catch up with cybercrimes
  • Plausible deniability: the challenge of proving that a person is the one that used their computer to commit an act (usually a criminal act)
  • Attribution: lack of attribution across the Internet impairs the ability to accurately, and with a high degree of confidence, trace internet connections/packets back to their source(s)

When two or more of these elements are combined, the end result is typically a confusing, and potentially indefensible, gathering of forensic data that can both let a criminal “walk” or cause an innocent person to be charged, tried and sentenced.

In any war there is a term known as “collateral damage”. In the war against cybercriminals, the collateral damage is clear and unmistakable. As a society, when we  gain more overall forensic analysis experience and systems are capable of providing more accurate attributable information, we should see a diminishing number of cases of innocent victims and more/stiffer convictions for the bad guys.
Jeff Debrosse
Senior Research Director


Author , ESET

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