Brazil becomes a cybercrime lab

Monday, 27 October 2003, 8:36 AM EST

With a told-you-so grin, Marcos Flávio Assunção reads out four digits - an Internet banking password - that he has just intercepted as a reporter communicates via laptop with a bank's supposedly secure Web site.

"It wouldn't matter if you were on the other side of the world in Malaysia," said Mr. Assunção, a confident 22-year-old. "I could still steal your password."

While impressive, Mr. Assunção's hacking talents are hardly unique in Brazil, where organized crime is rife and laws to prevent digital crime are few and largely ineffective. The country is becoming a laboratory for cybercrime, with hackers - able to collaborate with relative impunity - specializing in identity and data theft, credit card fraud and piracy, as well as online vandalism.

"Most of us are hackers, not crackers; good guys just doing it for the challenge, not criminals," Mr. Assunção said. He insisted that he had never put his talents to criminal use, although he acknowledged that at age 14 he once took down an Internet service provider for a weekend after arguing with its owner.

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