Microsoft's new Cybercrime Center combines tactics against hacking groups

Thu Nov 14, 2013 2:38pm EST
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By Joseph Menn

REDMOND, Washington (Reuters) - The maker of the most popular computer operating system in the world is launching a new strategy against criminal hackers by bringing together security engineers, digital forensics experts and lawyers trained in fighting software pirates under one roof at its new Cybercrime Center.

Microsoft Corp's expanded Digital Crimes Unit inside the 16,800-square foot, high-security facility combines a wide array of tactics that have worked the best: massive data gathering and analysis, gumshoe detective work, high-level diplomacy and creative lawyering.

The new approach, to be launched on Thursday, is the latest attempt to close the gap created in the past decade as criminal hackers innovated in technology and business methods to stay ahead of adversaries mired in the slow-moving world of international law enforcement.

Already, many of the biggest victories against organized online criminals have come when private companies have worked together to seize control of the networks of hacked computers, called botnets, that carry out criminal operations. Though it is at times derided for the security shortfalls in its own products, Microsoft has led more of those seizures than any other company.

"Cybercrime is getting worse," Digital Crimes Unit chief David Finn told Reuters during an exclusive visit to the Redmond, Washington, campus building this week. But Finn hopes that by mixing specialists from various professional arenas, Microsoft can get better.

The center features a lab for dissecting malicious software samples that is accessible only with fingerprint authorization. In another room, a monitor tracks the countries and Internet service providers with the greatest number of machines belonging to some of the worst botnets.

Next to a situation room with a wall-sized, touch-screen monitor sit rows of empty offices for visiting police, Microsoft customers or other allies expected to join specific missions for days or weeks at a time.

There are hundreds or thousands of botnets, and Microsoft is trying to get only the biggest or most damaging, or else to pursue fights that would establish key precedents.   Continued...

Vishant Patel (2nd L), senior manager of investigations at the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit, works in the unit's Malware Lab as Associate General Counsel David Finn (R), Security Operations employee Bruce Hembree (L) are reflected in a glass window while giving a tour at the Microsoft Cybercrime Center in Redmond, Washington November 11, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Redmond