Three foreigners charged with massive email breach in US

There is that saying about the long arm of the law and the places that it reaches. Considering how this latest cyber crime case practically covers three countries both near and far from the US, that might very well be applicable here. Several agencies of the US government made a joint announcement revealing some of the details that concerns two Vietnamese nationals and one Canadian who have been involved in one of the most massive case of email hacking and spam in the history of the US.

Between 2009 and 2012, two of the defendants, namely Viet Quoc Nguyen and Giang Hoang Vu, both Vietnamese citizens, allegedly hacked into at least eight email service providers in the US. This yielded over one billion email addresses taken from those companies' proprietary marketing data. Hacker behavior in the past years would make you presume that they would then post the fruits of their labor on some public channel or sell them to the highest bidder. That, however, wasn't enough for the two.

This part of the story is were Candadian David-Manuel Santos Da Silva comes in. Da Silva owned a retail site called Marketbay and allegedly went into a deal with Nguyen to profit from the stolen emails. For Nguyen's part, he was to spam those emails, using those hacked companies' own distribution platforms, and was given a commission for the sales that would come from those bulk emails. By 2012, Nguyen and Da Silva received $2 million from such sales.

The case sounds almost clear cut, but what the US government emphasizes is its ability to reach beyond borders to bring criminals, especially cyber ones, to justice. There is no safe haven for them. For example, Vu resided in the Netherlands where he was arrested in 2012 and later extradited to the US. Last month, Vu pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiracy to commit computer fraud.

Perhaps this is one of those cases where it does pay for the US government to have that long a reach, but it should always tread carefully and try to balance its powers. Just last month, Google made public its opposition to the proposed amendment to Criminal Procedure 41 that would allow any district judge to issue warrants to remotely access computers even outside its jurisdiction or outside the country for that matter. While that power might have been extremely useful in this case, considering how the defendants were located abroad, absolute power might also sour relationships with other governments and become counterproductive. After all, it was the amicable ties with those foreign governments that facilitated the investigation, arrest, and subsequent extradition of the defendants.