A new criminal class in North America, attracted by the low cost and low risk of cyber crime, has turned the Internet into an online haven where profit has replaced ‘kicks’ as the chief motivation.
So far, the bad guys seem to have the advantage. It is estimated that maybe only five per cent of cyber criminals are ever caught or convicted as they’re hard to catch and their theft is hard to track.
“Ten years ago, they were amateurs; now they are professionals who stay on top of their game. Cyber crime is a risk for companies and consumers and we’re having a hard time getting a handle on it,” admitted Dr. James Lewis, senior fellow and director, Technology and Public Policy Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies, based in Washington, D.C. Lewis is the author of a North American study into organized crime and the Internet, commissioned by intrusion prevention software and security risk management firm McAfee, Inc. and released in Toronto on July 5, 2005.
Lewis suggested that acts of criminal intent now amount to 69 per cent of Internet activity.
The report cites as examples the underground criminal groups, with names including Shadowcrew, Carderplanet and Darkprofits, that were discovered when 28 people from six countries were arrested by Canadian and U.S. authorities last fall.
Lewis says groups like them operate Web sites to buy and sell credit card information and false identities and cyber gangs in online communities complete with chat rooms share tips and Web sites that serve as “warehouses for criminals” — sources for renting malware tools and hiring skilled criminals to do some damage.
The report claims that information theft is the most damaging category of Internet crime, while viruses have been the most costly for businesses. However, the goal of many cyber criminals is to infect thousands of computers and turn them into a ‘bot-network’ or ‘bot-net’ of devices that have been compromised by worms or viruses and attack in unison on command with an extremely high computer processing capability. Spammers, hackers and other cyber criminals are able to acquire or rent ‘bot-nets.’ Some ‘bot-net’ owners will rent their networks for US$200 to $300 an hour. ‘Bot-nets’ are the growing weapon of choice for fraud and extortion, Lewis said.
In another report, released July 11, McAfee says the number of bot-related cases increased to about 13,000 in the second quarter of 2005 from about 3,000 in the first quarter.
Toronto was recently tracked as the city in the Americas region in which the highest percentage of bot-infected computers were located, according to a Symantec Security Update just released at press time.