The Rise of the Digital Thugs

Computers crimes get more savvy as 'digital thugs' turn to extortion, attacks on competitors


Dr. Shaws analysis of e-mail messages led them to believe that they were tracking a technologically sophisticated man, older than 30, with a history of work problems and personal conflicts, who was compulsively obsessed with details and who might own weapons. The stalker was extremely angry and holding a grudge, Dr. Shaw recalled. People like that can be very dangerous. He referred to himself as a soldier behind enemy lines.

Within a few weeks, Dr. Shaws analysis led the investigative team to focus on Myron Tereshchuk, a 43- year-old Maryland entrepreneur who ran his own patent business and had once been rebuffed by MicroPatent when he applied to the company for a job. And Mr. Tereshchuk was indeed their man. Members of Ms. Howells investigative team all said that Dr. Shaws profiling was a breakthrough in the pursuit, but that without the subsequent involvement of local and federal law enforcement officials, Mr. Tereshchuk would not have been captured.

It's about grinding out a lot of data; its not about intuition though years of working clinically with patients is certainly important, Dr. Shaw said. The Myron case involved a fair amount of case management because we needed to keep him talking, we needed to keep him engaged, so we could set him up for an arrest.

Indeed, the detective work that led to his arrest offers a revealing glimpse into how the new cat-andmouse game is played in cyberspace especially when the cloak of secrecy offered by newfangled wireless devices makes digital criminals so hard to track.

In early 2004, private investigators began corresponding with the stalker, sending spoofed e-mail back to him in the voice of a MicroPatent lawyer. At the same time, federal authorities began physically tracking Mr. Tereshchuks comings and goings in the real world. By February, the stalker had also become an active e-mail correspondent with Mr. Videtto, the MicroPatent president.

It was then that the stalker made a series of mistakes. Among them, he began to brag. In an e-mail message titled Fire them all, he informed Mr. Videtto that he had found valuable MicroPatent documents by going Dumpster diving to the Dumpster and recycle bins located in a parking lot on Shawnee Road in Alexandria, Va., where the company maintained a branch office. That allowed investigators to zero in on his location, further buttressing the notion that Mr. Tereshchuk, who lived nearby, was the author of the scheme.

In the same message, the stalker wrote angrily that staff members at the United States Patent and Trademark Office in northern Virginia had snubbed him and given preferential treatment to MicroPatent employees. Several years earlier, a patent office worker accused Mr. Tereshchuk of threatening to bomb the agency.

A computer forensics expert embedded a Web bug, a kind of digital tracking device, in one of the e-mail messages that Mr. Videtto sent to the stalker. But the stalker screened his e-mail with decoding devices that included a hex editor, software that allows users to preview the contents of incoming files, and he uncovered the bug. Was it a script to capture my IP address? the stalker wrote tauntingly to Mr. Videtto after finding the Web bug, referring to his Internet Protocol address. Ill look at it later with a hex editor.

Investigators said the failed bug worried them because they thought it might scare off the stalker, but by this point Mr. Tereshchuk had already demanded his $17 million extortion payment. He also clumsily revealed his identity by demanding that the money be sent to the person accused of threatening to bomb the patent office. And he kept sending e-mail messages telling Mr. Videtto that he had MicroPatents customer lists, patent applications, customer credit card numbers and the Social Security numbers of some employees, as well as the employees birth dates, home addresses and the names of their spouses and children.