Law enforcement has hardly made a dent in criminals' efforts to use the Internet to rip off consumers and steal their identities.
According to the latest Internet Crime Complaint Center data, nearly $240 million of individual losses from Internet fraud were reported to the FBI in 2007, an all-time high and a 20 percent increase since 2006.
Management Information Systems Professor Randal Vaughn of the Hankamer School of Business has focused his attention on trying to eradicate so-called botnets, a collection of compromised machines that do the bidding of their robot masters.
Vaughn says botnets are used to distribute the SPAM that frequently fills inboxes worldwide, as well as phishing, a scam that involves an Internet perpetrator posing as a legitimate company to defraud an online account holder of financial information. He says the battle has become global in scope, with criminal elements around the world taking part.
These guys are pretty slick," Vaughn said. "They make a lot of money."
Many of the profits are swindled from citizens who have the least to lose. Vaughn acknowledged that educated Internet users are less likely to fall prey to scams than say, their grandmothers, or other users unaware of potential online risks.
"It's important to protect people who can't protect themselves," Vaughn said.
Vaughn is a member of the APWG, a coalition of industry, law enforcement and government associates committed to wiping out Internet scams and fraud. The APWG focuses on eliminating the identity theft and fraud caused by the growing problems of phishing, email spoofing, and crimeware. The organization is comprised of over 3,000 members and 1,700 companies and organizations worldwide.
"The global criminal plexus that has emerged on the Internet requires technical and policy coordination across national frontiers and technological domains," said APWG Secretary General Peter Cassidy.
While Vaughn now works with organizations and professionals across the globe, his initial interest in content filtering was sparked at home eight years ago, when his then 9-year-old daughter began using the Internet.
"I've always had an interest in security, because you have to if you ever do anything in computing," Vaughn said. "You're always worried about people misusing the resources."