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FBI hunts software pirates

For months, undercover FBI agents have been lurking on the Net trying to build a case against software pirates. The result: Operation Cyber Strike.

For eight months, undercover FBI agents have been lurking on the Net trying to build a case against software pirates who operate online.

Today, Operation Cyber Strike went full force with a nationwide raid on the alleged perpetrators. The FBI issued search warrants and conducted interviews across the country today to crack what it calls "a billion-dollar-a-year crime problem."

Those who pass along copyrighted software through bulletin board systems (BBSes), Internet file transfer protocol (FTP) sites, and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) were the targets of the raid.

Residences and businesses being investigated are located in Atlanta, Des Moines, Iowa; Columbus, Ohio; Miami, Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh, and San Leandro and Cedar Ridge, California, authorities said.

The FBI said "victimized manufacturers" include Sega of America, Microsoft, Sony Computer Entertainment, Autodesk, and Adobe Systems, to name a few.

Other criminal activities the underground network of bulletin board system "owners" and their users are being accused of include theft of telephone service, distribution and use of stolen credit card and calling card numbers, the spread of computer viruses, and the theft of corporations' proprietary information, the FBI stated today.

"Pirated software often has appeared on pirate boards within a day of its public release, and in many cases before its official release by the software manufacturer," the FBI added.

The bureau anticipates more warrants and searches in the future. No arrests warrants have been issued as of today.

Software publishers known for fighting off the government on other issues such as encryption applauded the FBI's action

"[This raid] is a clear and decisive indication by the FBI and its San Francisco-based International Computer Crime Squad [that] individuals or groups engaged in pirating software are subject to the full force of the law," Sandra Sellers, a spokeswoman for the Software Publishers Association, said in a statement.

"We welcome this initiative by the FBI and will continue to offer any assistance the FBI may need, including the SPA database of over 1,600 alleged pirate bulletin boards, to see this investigation successfully concluded," she continued.

Senior writer Janet Kornblum contributed to this report.