Expansion of U.S. “Name and Shame” Indictment Policy?

In 2014, the United States made a bold move when the Department of Justice indicted five PLA members on charges of hacking and economic espionage. The indictments signaled a decision to face cyber espionage head on by calling out the nations who perpetrated the offenses.

Earlier this year, the DOJ decided to use that same tactic again by indicting four Russians accused of hacking, wire fraud, trade secret theft, and economic espionage. The charges relate to the massive data breach at Yahoo that led to 500 million user accounts being compromised. Two of the individuals charged were members of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB. The other two were private individuals hired by the government.

Why did the DoJ decide to do this? Russia and China won’t ever extradite their own, so the indictments are likely both the first and last step of the prosecution of those individuals. The indictments are simply a tool used to “name and shame” international actors who are behaving unlawfully. Moreover, it appeals to domestic audiences who think the U.S. government should be doing more to combat these types of cyber acts from foreign nations. Finally, the indictments can serve as a deterrent.  In sum, the policy has some valid benefits and makes sense.

Just over a week ago, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York indicted an Iranian man for stealing episodes of HBO’s show Game of Thrones. The man stole unaired episodes, scripts, and plot summaries and demanded $6 million for their release. Notably, prosecutors said that the man had been connected to other illegal cyber activity on behalf of the Iranian government. Further explaining the benefits of this policy, U.S. Attorney’s Office stated that, “He will never be able to travel outside of Iran without fear of being arrested and brought here.”

To me, this seems to be an expansion of the policy. This wasn’t individuals acting on behalf of a foreign government and it wasn’t part of a more calculated effort to combat a specific nation’s economic espionage. The breach was damaging to HBO and the individual has a history. Regardless, at first glance, this seems to be a more casual use of the name and shame indictment method. The theft of popular TV shows  does not strike me as something that would typically inspire a DOJ investigation and a bold statement on an international level. Perhaps the people at DOJ simply decided this was an individual worth trying to slow down or stop. But it will be interesting to see if this trend continues and we start to see more of these indictments.


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Professor William Snyder

Professor William C. Snyderis a member of the faculty of the Institute for National Security and Counter-terrorism at Syracuse University after fifteen years with the United States Department of Justice.

Ryan D. White

Ryan D. WhiteRyan is currently a third year law student at Syracuse University College of Law, and is also pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree from Syracuse’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Ryan spent time with Homeland Security Investigations while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University, and spent his first summer of law school as clerk for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of New York. He is a member of Syracuse Law Review, the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and participates in the Veteran’s Legal Clinic. Full biography

Shelby E. Mann

Ryan D. WhiteShelby is a second year law student at the Syracuse University College of Law. She is the 2018-9 Editor in Chief of the Syracuse Law Review, as well as a member of the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and the senior editor for the Syrian Accountability Project. During her final year at the University of Missouri, she served as a full-time news producer for ABC 17 News. Shelby spent her first summer of law school at the Shelby County District Attorney General's Office in Memphis, Tenn., in the Public Corruption and Economic Crimes Unit. Full biography

Christopher w. FolkChristopher W. Folk

is a 2017 graduate of SU College of Law. A non-traditional student, Christopher returned to academia after spending nearly twenty years in the high tech industry. Christopher served in the Marine Corps, graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. In Applied Economics and Business Management, attended Northeastern University’s High-Tech MBA Program and received a M.S. In Computer Information Systems. Christopher previously worked in Software Engineering. Christopher is currently serving his second term as Town Justice for the Town of Waterloo. Christopher externed with a Cybersecurity firm in the Washington, D.C. area between his first and second year at SU College of Law. Full biography

Anna Maria Castillo

Anna Maria Castillois 2016 graduate of Syracuse College of Law. She also holds a Master of Arts in International Relations from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She has interned at a London-based think-tank that specializes in transnational terrorism and global security and at the legal department of a defense contractor. She served as an executive editor in the Syracuse Law Review. Full biography

Jennifer A. CamilloJennifer A. Camillo

is a 2015 graduate of Syracuse College of Law and is a prosecutor. She has served as a law clerk in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York and the Cayuga County District Attorney’s Office and as an extern in the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office. She was a member of the Syracuse National Trial Team and was awarded the Tiffany Cup by the New York Bar Association for her trial advocacy achievements.

Tara J. PistoreseTara J. Pistorese

holds Juris Doctor and Masters of Public Administration degrees from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and its College of Law. She wrote for this blog when a student. She is now a member of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps.

Benjamin Zaiser

is both a scholar and a Federal Agent of the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany. (Opinions expressed here are his own and not any part of official duty.) Full biography