Operators and the Law

In the Black Hat world the law is an understood factor. In the United States today it’s safest to simply assume that everything you do beyond updating your Facebook page, or searching Amazon, can be considered against US law. The 20,000 pages US Federal Law is not black and white, nor is it intended to be. This law is written and interpreted as needed for the prosecutors to win every single case, generally via plea agreement under the threat of the ridiculously disproportionate sentences that come with losing at trial. Over 90% of US federal sentences are the results of plea agreements. In the rare event that a defendant takes the case to trial, the feds win over 90% of the drug and gun cases, and 60% of all other cases. Those are not good odds.
Worse than the win/loss ratio, is the sentencing. In the US it’s possible to get a life sentence for marijuana sales, and decades in prison for basic financial crimes. Most American’s have very naive world views that are further infected by American Exceptionalism. US Citizens want to believe in the land of the free, and the home of the brave. It’s easier to sleep at night that way. Alternatively you’d have to consider the fact that the US incarcerates a larger percentage of its citizens than any other country on Earth, which makes it the land of the imprisoned. And last time I checked it didn’t take a lot of courage to push a button in Nevada that results in a Hellfire missile being dropped on a high-value target in the Middle East, regardless of the civilian casualties. Hey, at least no American soldiers die, that’s what’s really important, right? For me, being good in math, “brave” means when the odds are against the person going into combat, and they go anyway. Not when the odds are a million to one that they’ll ever be put at risk.
That’s the state of affairs we are dealing with; a criminal justice system that’s parted ways with justice long ago. With US conspiracy laws the US courts no longer require any actual evidence to get an indictment, or a conviction. If 5 people say that you sold them an ounce of cocaine every week for 3 years, then you will be charged for distributing 48 pounds of cocaine. Even if there is no cocaine found in the case, and you have 20 people that say you’ve never bought, sold, or used drugs, you will still plead guilty and take your 15 year sentence to avoid risking the 25 year sentence you might get for losing at trial. Worse, is the situation perpetuates itself with a staggering 87% cooperation rate in drug cases. That means that in 87% of drug cases, a defendant gave up new names, in spite of the fact that they almost never get off any real time. These days the prosecutors add extra charges up front so they can be dropped in exchange for information later. So that’s the criminal justice system at play.
If you aren’t a drug dealer, who cares, right? I mean any idiot can look at the drug trade and see it’s a simply game of attrition, where the average first time drug dealer is caught in the first 3 years. With each subsequent release from prison, their odds are cut in half. The US Government spends billions to do drug interdiction, and they have the whole thing figured out, with tons of case law to support their lack of due process. It’s a fool’s game. You can’t beat a militarized super power that’s built a huge industry around arresting people for exactly that crime. The FBI and DEA can hire any idiot to do that job, and they certainly do.
With cybercrime, it’s an entirely different ball game. If someone had the intellectual prowess to do high level cyber security analysis, they could go to the private sector and make over a $100,000 a year in industries where there is literally negative unemployment perpetually. Why would they work for the FBI for 20 years in hopes of reaching their pay cap of $70,000? They wouldn’t, and they don’t. So the FBI is constantly behind the times, and forced to rely on off-the-shelf software instead of high-level technical talent. This is why the prisons are full of drug dealers, and only a small handful of hackers.
Somewhere in between the relatively safe crimes of cybercrime, and the moron crimes of drug dealing, there lies white collar crime. Looking at corporate fraud, we can see there is actually a few hundred cases of federally prosecuted per year. In spite of the fact that it usually requires some education and wherewithal to get into corporate fraud, there are more convictions than there should be. With drug cases, the defendant usually isn’t a criminal, they are addicts supporting their own habits. Simple crimes of desperation. And thus they don’t get into the game with any operational security experience. Considering the competition, you’d have to have some high level intelligence agency training to hope to make any headway in that game. Even then, how do you win when every single customer is busy reducing their cognitive abilities by choice, and when they are arrested, they have no incentive not to become an informant?
Corporate fraud is different. In most cases, these aren’t criminals either. These are business people that fall on tough times, or greed gets the best of them, and they see an angle. They find a hole somewhere that leads them to believe that they can increase their ROI by cutting corners, or in some way violating the law. In many of the cases I have seen, the would-be-criminals didn’t even know they were breaking the law. These are merely opportunistic criminals, those that fall into a situation where it’s possible, and they just choose the wrong path. When I say wrong, I am referring to those that got caught. If someone ran up millions and corporate debt and then left the United States and got away with it, we can argue the ethics of that action, but for discussion purposes those are not the ones I am referring to here.
Where professional operators and black hats are concerned, generally they go into the situation with the possibility of law enforcement investigation in mind. With your average white collar guy, they usually make sure every aspect of their business is documented as is required by law. This makes it especially easy for the FBI to investigate and prosecute, when all the corporate, banking, and tax records make their case for them. And that’s the problem with white collar offenders, they tend to think that their crime will never be noticed, and they try not to think about all that evidence sitting there ready for the prosecutor to turn into exhibits. This is the get-caught-later plan, and the exact same mind-set as drug dealers.
On the get-caught-later plan, a criminal conducts crime in such a way that they logically know there is no way law enforcement isn’t going to find out what they’ve done eventually. When you sell drugs to a drug addict that doesn’t even know what operational security is that’s what you are doing. When you falsify a credit application for a company with your name on it, that’s the same thing. Sure, you might not get caught for weeks, months, or years, but you have laid the foundation. It’s no way to live. Why not conduct yourself in such a way that you can sleep easy every night knowing you didn’t leave a single trail that could be traced back to you, and that your money is safe offshore?
My point here is simple, if you are going to be a criminal, do it, and do it right. Be good, or be good at it. Freedom is entirely too precious to throw it away with hopeless optimism. Optimism is not a sound security policy, it makes as much logical sense as prayer and playing the lotto. Sure, you might win, but the odds are against it. Why would you spend hundreds of man hours on a business plan, work 18 hours a day, and then throw it all away with an ill-conceived risk/reward ratio? If you want to steal millions and retire to the Caribbean, go ahead. Just don’t think you are going to do that without breaking the law, or pitting yourself against law enforcement.
That’s the core of the issue here, business people in the US are struggling with a stagnant economy where only the largest of companies stand any real chance. These businesses play aggressive games, and competition can get heated. Play as hard as you like, but if you are going to break the law, understand that you can’t just stick a toe in the water, and then back out. That’s not how it works. The US Government is $23 Trillion in debt, and they reward their law enforcement agencies by allowing them to retain a high percentage of their seizures. They are looking for any excuse to kick over your otherwise legitimate business, and seize your assets. As soon as you stick that toe in the water, in their eyes you are a criminal, and an enemy of the state, and more importantly fair prey. From that point forward you are at the mercy of big data, and evil algorithms. Eventually, they will work their way down to you, and your day will come. The only thing that will save you is others being ahead of you that represent larger seizures or easier convictions. So why play that game?
It’s real simple, if you are going to dabble in white-collar crime, or cybercrime, all you have to do is put Operational Security (OpSec) first. Nothing goes in your name, you never use your own IP address, and you obfuscate and obscure everything you do. Do it the black hat way, or plan to come to prison. There’s no way to half-ass crime when your opposing force is a militarized police state working to cover their budget shortfalls by any means necessary.
Ethically people often point the finger at me for inferring that crime is ever a logical choice. Understand that I do not hope to convert the working class to crime. I do however, hope to convert stupid criminals to smarter criminals that have less of an impact on humanity. If I was robbed tomorrow, I will eventually make that money back, but no amount of money will ever be able to buy back the lives taken by the violent crimes associated with the drug trade. The US media advertises and promotes capitalism with every second of its existence, and yet everyone acts surprised when some under-privileged and under-educated young man takes something by force. Every rap video glorifies crime, and continues to promote the worst that culture has to offer exemplifying drug sales as the only path to success, and the results is the staggering incarceration rate for minorities.
If you were to go to the inner-city and offer two packages to young people, A) a full-ride college scholarship to an Ivy League school, or B) A fixed up Impala with the appropriate paint job and stereo system, you’d have damn few takers on the education, in spite of that being the more expensive option. Everyone wants the trappings of wealth and power, but no one wants to do any of the work to get it. Americans have an inflated sense of self-entitlement, and this latest generation seems to have lost its work ethic altogether. If you choose to be involved in low-level crime, these are the people you’ll be dealing with. It’s the get rich quick mentality, which makes it very easy on law enforcement. They rarely see a complicated or well thought out scam these days, and why would they look for them? The FBI can just browse Facebook for new crimes, and arrest the idiots posting pictures of guns, drugs, and ill-gotten cash, and they do.
In my opinion, the time is right for black hats and operators of all shades involved in white-collar crime. The FBI is entirely dependent on service providers to give them their evidence, and they use numerous software suites to analyze that data. They don’t actually do any real investigation anymore, they merely print out a report, and then go find the witnesses to agree with what’s on the report. That’s it. If you’re a black hat operator using international proxies, encryption, shelf companies, and proper OpSec all the way around, it can be a fairly safe occupation. Assuming you can manage the money of course. You might want to read Black Hat Banking if that’s still a mystery to you. Otherwise, all the occupation really requires in an education, and attention to detail. That doesn’t seem like a lot of work to make millions in my opinion, but I might be biased.
These days, being a successful criminal is way more work than getting a straight job, even if crime is more rewarding. Even then, only white-collar crime and cybercrime is more rewarding. Low-level drug crimes carry decades in prison, for a return on investment that barely rivals the same money you’d make as a manager of a fast food restaurant. If that’s worth losing your freedom for, then you need to dramatically reevaluate your priorities in life.

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