The phenomenon that is social networking is clearly having an effect on the world of computing, both in the corporate realm and, most noticeably, in the consumer space. Terms such as YouTube, wikis and blogs have become a part of our everyday lexicon as the connected population of the world begins to communicate with an ability never before seen in human history.
Unfortunately, it seems that the benefits such new technologies bring are not limited to developers sharing coding tips or grandmothers trading recipes and pics of the little tykes they spoil on weekends. Hackers, scammers and other forces of Internet evil have also discovered the joys of keeping in touch — with each other.
Last month, the president of threat research for CA Inc. spoke about the trend, warning that because of the ne’er-do-wells’ increased ability to communicate with one another, approaches and techniques that meet with “success” for one can quickly be related to others, perhaps halfway around the world. A recent conversation I had with an online crime expert from McAfee soon got around to this topic as well.
This capability is disturbing for countless obvious reasons, but it is also indicative of another trend occurring in the world of online threats. At this point in the Internet’s development, causing havoc across its wires has become big business. It is no longer the exclusive pastime of those chip disturbers who are into it for personal glory and who prefer to be revered within piratical circles for all the damage they’ve caused.
With the amount of money generated by spam, phishing scams and other forms of online fraud, the people perpetrating the crimes tend to look at their deeds as a lucrative form of organized crime. Where in the past it was usually an individual working out of a dorm room or dank basement, looking for no greater reward than the ability to look upon the havoc that had been caused and laugh, today anonymity and sustainability are the names of the game.
The element that is truly unsettling in this picture is the sudden prevalence of the profit motive. With greater networks of fraudster contacts developing, and with the sophistication being brought to the table around organization and operation, these groups could prove extremely hard to contain.
On the positive side, however, having well-organized criminals running the show, rather than pimply teenage whiz kids, could finally force governments to take the online threat more seriously — and that can only help in the effort to combat it.