Hacking a hacker?

While doing some recent reading on Digital Foerensics I came across a particularly interesting older case where a Russian hacker was caught by the FBI and charged with computer intrusion and fraud. While this doesn't sound like anything too out of the ordinary what caught my attention was some of the details.

The FBI alleged that Ivanov and other international hackers gained unauthorized access into computers at CTS Network Services (an ISP) and used them to attack other e-commerce companies, including two credit card processors, where he stole customer financial information and used this information in the usual fraud schemes. Nothing too out of the ordinary so far.

Once the FBI had identified their culprit, in order to make the arrest they lured him and an accomplice to the US on the premise of offering a job as an IT security consultant. When the pair arrived, the FBI had them remotely connect to their machines back in Russia as a demonstration of their skills for the new prospective employer. But not all was as it seemed, as the FBI were keylogging the machines the Russians used in the US and used these captured credentials to connect to the Russian computers and extract the evidence they needed (without a search warrant) to prosecute Ivanov and his accomplice.

Do the ends justify the means? The Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, didn't think so, started criminal proceedings against the FBI Agents for unauthorized access to computer information. Meanwhile back in the States, the Agents involved were awarded the director’s award for excellence as the case was the first in bureau’s history to “utilize the technique of extra-territorial seizure.”

The assistant US District attorney commented that he "wouldn't call it hacking" when discussing the Agent's actions and a federal judge agreed, rejecting motions filed that sought to suppress the evidence obtained from the computers with Ivanov eventually being sentenced to three years in prison.

Do, in this case, the ends justify the means? Or is it simply the beginning of a slipperly slope allowing state-sanctioned hacking in the name of justice?

This case is wan older one and was 'pre-9/11', so I wonder what effect the PATRIOT act has had in the intervening years...

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