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Law enforcement officials executed a coordinated raid Tuesday involving about 100 sites in six nations and 27 US cities, seizing computers -- including three at MIT -- allegedly used to store and distribute pirated software.
The investigation targeted 62 persons at major universities, businesses and homes in the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
At MIT, US agents working with MIT Information Systems personnel and Campus Police seized three computers. The FBI and the US Customs Service questioned a staff member in the economics department, whose home also was included in the raid.
"We have been cooperating in the investigation," said James D. Bruce, MIT vice president for Information Systems. The raid forced a temporary shutdown of the computer network in the MIT Department of Economics. Federal officials and MIT investigators copied files through the night so departmental machines could be restored to service, Bruce said.
No arrests were made in the United States but four persons were arrested overseas, according to the US Justice Department.
Federal authorities said the piracy ring stole and distributed software, often before it was available to the public. These included Microsoft Windows, firewall/security software, copyrighted computer games, music videos and movies, among them "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and "Monsters, Inc."
Officials at US Customs said that university raids also took place at Duke, Purdue and UCLA, among others.
Customs officials said persons involved may be subject to charges of conspiracy to violate 18 USC 2319, Criminal Copyright Infringement, and 17 USC 101, the No Electronic Theft ("Net") Act, concerning the illegal reproduction and distribution of copyrighted software. The investigation is continuing.
The Customs Service alleged that "in the early 1990s, groups of computer hackers working in underground networks organized into competitive gangs to illegally obtain computer software, games and movies for posting on the Internet for illegal distribution."
The group, known as the "WAREZ" community, obtained software from industry insiders or by cracking computer codes. They then allegedly distributed it "not for profit, but rather for the challenge and fun of it," the Customs Service said in a news release. Other groups "then reproduce and distribute it for profit," according to Customs.
The raids combined three separate operations: Operation Buccaneer, by the US Justice Department, US Customs and the US attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia; Operation Bandwidth, by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the EPA Office of Inspector General and the US Attorney's Office in Nevada; and Operation Digital Piratez, an undercover operation by the FBI's Boston field office, supervised by the US attorney for New Hampshire.