Obama administration wants greater powers to take down botnets

In an effort to crack down on hijacked computers and networks, the Obama administration is seeking expanded powers through an amendment to existing law.

The Gameover Zeus botnet is said to stolen more than $100 million in the US alone (Image via CNET)

The Obama administration wants to amend criminal law in order to tackle the growing problem of disruptive botnets.

Current law gives courts the authority to issue injunctions for a limited scope of crimes, including certain kinds of fraud and illegal wiretapping.

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But the Justice Department in a blog post this week argued that the current law doesn't go far enough in effort to prevent botnets, which can hijack hundreds if not thousands of machines to launch distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against networks, and steal sensitive corporate data or launch.

"Individual hackers and organized criminal groups are using state-of-the-art techniques to infect hundreds of thousands -- sometimes millions -- of computers and cause massive financial losses, all while becoming increasingly difficult to detect," said Leslie Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the Justice Department in a blog post.

The Gameover Zeus botnet was said to have stolen more than $100 million in US losses alone.

The Justice Dept. wants to lower the number of computers that are under a "command and control" server to 100 or more victim computers.

Although the amendment aims to catch up with the current state of play that hackers and malware-writers use, one prominent privacy group warned that the amendment may overreach.

Speaking to Threatpost, Electronic Frontier Foundation legislative analyst Mark Jaycox warned that the amendment may allow authorities to overreach the law's intentions.

"We'd like to see a particular use case where they couldn't use their already aggressive interpretation of the current law to take down botnets," Jaycox said. "If anything, we should be narrowing the current anti-hacking statute and computer laws because of their excessive breadth."

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