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Storrs, CT: Hotbed of International Cyber Espionage?

Blogs, Cyber Risks, Liabilities, Insurance and Litigation

This week, several news outlets reported that the FBI raided a house on North Eagleville Road, in Storrs, Connecticut. As UConn alumni know, North Eagleville Road includes “the Jungle”, “Frats” dormitories, and is a stone’s throw from campus watering holes, Ted’s and Huskies. Hartford-based WFSB reported that a University of Connecticut student was the target of the raid.

According to news reports, apparently the FBI traced an IP address to another student, Zach Hixon, and then learned the person they were looking for was sharing Hixon’s internet connection. Hixon’s neighbor, whose name was not identified, is reported to be a Groton native and sophomore at the University of Connecticut (UConn). Reports have it that he has stated that he is part of Anonymous, a self-described “internet activist group” that temporarily shut down Paypal and Mastercard in support of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange.

In December 2010, Paypal was one of several companies that severed ties with entities that were redirecting donations to WikiLeaks. Paypal alleged that redirection of monies to WikiLeaks violated its “Acceptable Use Policy”, specifically that it was used for “activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity.” Mastercard similarly announced that it “is taking action to ensure that WikiLeaks can no longer accept MasterCard-branded products”, stating that “MasterCard rules prohibit customers from directly or indirectly engaging in or facilitating any action that is illegal.”

The UConn student told WFSB that he sent out more than 120,000 emails to either Paypal or Mastercard. The surge of internet traffic made those websites temporarily inaccessible.

The successful disruption of Paypal and Mastercard’s websites illustrates the many and varied security challenges facing businesses dependent on internet traffic and surely will result in improvements in security and capacity for spikes in web traffic, even web traffic caused by the concerted efforts of an “internet activist” group.

According to WSFB, similar law enforcement raids are also taking place in France, the Netherlands, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

As a UConn alum who lived on North Eagleville Road, I could not help but wonder how such international cyber espionage could be taking place on campus. But then again, when I attended beginning in 1988, the school recently had taken on an ambitious building program to install what they were calling “the internet” throughout the campus.

These days, with ubiquitous wi-fi access, students and other net users must be mindful of the risks of sharing an IP address with possible cyber hackers or “internet activists” who may attract the attention of law enforcement. Dealing with those risks may, among other things, involve obtaining insurance – and, for insurers, writing policies that deal with new threats.