Feds Take Action Against Software Pirates

The federal government on Tuesday conducted three separate actions aimed at taking down a large network of software pirates operating around the globe.

The federal government on Tuesday conducted three separate actions aimed at taking down a large network of software pirates operating around the globe.

In one of the actions, Operation Bandwidth, federal agents created and ran a "warez" –- or pirated software -- site for two years, during which time more than 12,000 separate programs were downloaded from the site. Organized by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the FBI and the Environmental Protection Agencys Office of Inspector General, the operation culminated in the execution of 30 search warrants in the United States and Canada.

The U.S. Customs Services action targeted the DrinkOrDie warez group, a collective with origins in Russia that customs officials say is one of the largest and most active piracy groups on the Internet.

One of the peculiarities of the warez scene is that its denizens hide in plain sight. There are hundreds of warez sites readily accessible on the Internet, many openly advertising illegal copies of expensive operating systems, games and other software.

An Internet search revealed dozens of hits for DrinkOrDie and its members. Some of the results showed programs such as DVD Speed Ripper 1.0, apparently written by DrinkOrDie. The groups site, www.drinkordie.com, appears to be offline, and a Whois record for the domain lists an address in Singapore.

In an undated interview on a warez-related site called Apollo-X, Bandido, who claims to be one of DrinkOrDies leaders, says that while he has no coding skills himself, "I do however have a rather nice team capable of cracking or coding anything."

DrinkOrDie began in Moscow in 1993, customs officials said, and quickly expanded beyond Russias borders. The group claims to have copied and released over the Internet Microsoft Corp.s Windows 95 operating system two weeks before its commercial release.

According to customs officials, the groups members include corporate executives, network administrators at major universities, employees in the high-tech industry, students and government workers.

Customs agents executed a total of 37 search warrants on targets including major universities, businesses and residences. Known as Operation Buccaneer, the investigation has spanned 15 months and involved agents from the U.S. Customs CyberSmuggling Center and the Department of Justices Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section.

"Operation Buccaneer is the largest and most extensive investigation of its kind," said U.S. Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner. "This investigation underscores the severity and scope of a multibillion dollar software swindle over the Internet, as well as the vulnerabilities of this technology to outside attack."

The customs raid was also coordinated with similar operations in Australia, England, Finland and Norway. Although no one was arrested in the customs action, five arrests were made overseas.

The third action, Operation Digital Piratez, was the result of a yearlong undercover investigation by the FBIs Boston Field Office. Agents infiltrated several warez groups, specifically targeting the groups responsible for cracking the codes that protect copyrighted software.

In total, customs agents seized 129 computers during Tuesdays raids. European authorities made a total of nine arrests and impounded 29 machines. All of the warrants served Tuesday have been sealed by a court order.