There are a lot of things to complain about when it comes to web hosts. They range from tasteless advertising to automatically renewing services and continuing to charge you for things you never asked for. But recently, it’s gotten much worse than that. But don’t worry, this time it wasn’t the customers of web hosting services who were the victim.
Our story starts with one of the worst viruses that your computer can get: The Gozi virus. You would be sent a PDF attachment and Gozi would be released into your computer when you opened the file. Once it was in your computer, it could impact certain banking sites and collect information that you entered, like your pin number or security questions. After that, you can imagine how easy it would be to steal money from your account. Although for awhile it was mostly spread in Europe, it did eventually hit about 40,000 PCs in the U.S., even infecting NASA computers, and stealing tens of millions of dollars for the thieves that were running the scheme.
And that’s where it gets relevant to web hosting. One of the men charged with the crime is Mihai Ionut Paunescu, who ran a hosting service originally just for Gozi, although he eventually also rented out hosting space for other cyber-criminal endeavors.
Paunescu ran what’s known as a “bulletproof” hosting service. Besides the servers, he needed to set up all of the security features that are so important if you want to be a successful criminal. That means leasing server space from legitimate web hosts, masking your IPs using proxies and even shifting the addresses frequently.
The FBI cooperated with the Romanian police to track down Paunescu and right now they’re in the middle of the extradition process. Once he gets to the U.S., Paunescu could face up to sixty years in prison. Of the major operators of these crimes, he was the toughest to catch. Among all the other information they gathered about the criminals, there was a cell phone number with a Bucharest area code. The FBI got permission to tap the phone, then found out the name of the company it was registered to and the name of the person who registered that company. The smartphone was used to administer the servers and when the phone’s user eventually identified himself as the suspect, the FBI swooped in.
What does this mean for your average web hosting user? Well, not a lot. On the one hand, it’s nice to know that a web host can be secure enough that it’s even tough for the FBI to get in. On the other hand, it may be a little nerve-wracking to know that there are hackers out there that can keep the FBI on their toes. The most important thing however, is the insight this provides into what your web host faces. When your web hosting services seems to be fussy about the information they get from you, keep in mind that they may be concerned about leasing to criminals.