The rise of organized cyber-gangs

In the old film noir tradition, the hard-boiled gumshoe detective hunts his prey in sleazy gin-joints and dark alleys, slapping snitches and dames around to get them to talk.

Today’s cyber-sleuths use IP addresses, online chat rooms and sophisticated surveillance to track their elusive prey in the shadowy nooks and crannies of the Internet. Businesses should worry, as the criminal element is growing increasingly wily and extremely well-connected on a global scale.

“Every one you take down, there are at least two to three more out there,” said Detective Constable Mark Fenton of the Vancouver police’s computer crime unit.

A specialist in Internet investigations, Fenton worked with the FBI and Secret Service to bring down the Canadian wing of the ShadowCrew cybergang in 2004.

The ShadowCrew was started up in 2002 by a criminal duo based in New Jersey, and had an estimated 4,000 members operating worldwide by the time it was broken up two years later by the FBI.

The cyber-gang used any conceivable means to extract money from stolen data: identity theft, phishing, counterfeiting credit cards and fencing stolen property being a few examples.

The bust yielded 1.7 million credit card numbers, access data to over 18 million e-mail accounts and identity data for thousands of people. Links to people in Canada, Bulgaria, Poland and Sweden were discovered. Ten major North American companies were not even aware their servers were being used by the ShadowCrew, said Fenton.

Organized crime is increasingly eyeing this lucrative market, said Ren