New US strategy led to arrest of hacker

KUALA LUMPUR • The arrest of a Kosovan hacker in Malaysia last week appears to be the first success story of a new initiative by the United States Justice Department to expand its fight against international cyber criminals.

Under the strategy, the US placed a legal adviser in Malaysia to serve as a point of contact for coordinating training on cyber investigations and prosecution, and as a resource for questions about the use of electronic evidence in such cases.

The new position worked on the principle that a foreign country arresting hackers within its own borders may be a more efficient strategy than hauling them to US courts, reported The Jakarta Post.

The US often faces obstacles in locating, extraditing and convicting overseas hackers, due to different laws in other parts of the world, according to officials. This made it imperative to ensure that cybercrime laws in other countries match up to those in the US.

The legal advisory position that was created in Malaysia was intended to fill this vacuum by acting as a resource for the authorities to formulate appropriate laws and use the latest techniques to ensure that hackers are apprehended and brought to justice.

The legal adviser to Malaysia has been identified as Mr Thomas Dougherty, who spent many years as a Justice Department computer crimes prosecutor.

According to State Department officials, Mr Dougherty has already reviewed cases with Malaysian officials. He has also met officials from Vietnam to discuss potential improvements to the penal code in that country to tackle cybercrime.

The initiative will ramp up the fight against criminal activities that transcend geographic borders, such as hacking attacks by criminals based overseas who are able to avoid prosecution under US law.

Arresting the perpetrators of such cybercrimes under the laws of their home countries is a step forward towards rectifying the situation, though the US says it will also seek the extradition of hackers caught overseas under the initiative.

The legal adviser positioned in Malaysia comes under the purview of the US State Department. The placement has been done on a trial basis, as a benchmark to replicate the role in other parts of the world if successful. The trial will run for a year.

Last Tuesday, the US Justice Department released a statement that Kosovan citizen Ardit Ferizi was detained in Malaysia on a US provisional arrest warrant.

He was arrested for allegedly committing computer hacking and identity theft violations in conjunction with the theft and release of personally identifiable information of US service personnel and federal employees to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group.

The case was described by Mr John Carlin, the Justice Department's top national security official, as "the first of its kind".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 18, 2015, with the headline 'New US strategy led to arrest of hacker'. Print Edition | Subscribe