Three Spanish men were arrested last month for allegedly building an international network of more than 12 million hacked PCs that were used for everything from identity theft to spamming. But according to Spanish authorities and security experts who helped unravel the crime ring, the accused may very well never see the inside of a jail cell even if they are ultimately found guilty, due to insufficient cyber crime legislation in Spain.
According to Spanish security firm Panda Security, the massive botnet, dubbed “Marioposa” (Spanish for “butterfly”), was rented out to criminals as a delivery platform for installing malicious software such as the data-stealing ZeuS Trojan and pay-per-install toolbars. Panda said the gang also stole directly from victim bank accounts, using money mules in the United States and Canada, and laundered stolen money through online gambling Web sites (pictured above is a screen shot of the Web site the men created where would-be Mariposa customers could visit for information on purchasing access to the botnet and other criminal services.)
Panda said Mariposa helped crooks steal sensitive data from more than 800,000 victims, including home users, companies, government agencies and universities in at least 190 countries. Spanish police estimate that at least 600,000 of the victimized PCs belong to Spanish citizens, and yet they concede it may be extremely challenging to put the men in jail if they are convicted at trial.
“It is almost impossible to be sent to prison for these kinds of crimes in Spain, where prison is mainly for serious crime cases,” said Captain Cesar Lorenzana, deputy head technology crime division of the Spanish Civil Guard. “In Spain, it is not a crime to own and operate a botnet or distribute malware. So even if we manage to prove they are using a botnet, we will need to prove they also were stealing identities and other things, and that is where our lines of investigation are focusing right now.”