Why Cybercrime is Thriving

A new Symantec report reveals just how large and sophisticated the online underground economy has grown

A new Symantec report finds that despite shaky times for economies around the world, the underground economy is booming and cybercriminals are making big bucks. The research, titled Report on the Underground Economy , was conducted from July 2007 through June of this year and brings cybercrime activity in the underground economy into a sharper focus. The survey looks at the groups involved in today's black market, as well as the major advertisers, and the most popular goods and services available. Symantec puts that value of goods advertised by criminals at US$276 million.

According to the survey, criminals are increasingly turning to IRC servers and Web-based forums to conduct fraudulent business to buy and sell fraudulent goods and services like credit card data and bank account credentials. The system in which these transactions take place is now very sophisticated, and includes job functions such as cashiers who can transfer funds from stolen accounts into true currency. New roles also include phishing and scam page hosting, and job advertisements are even posted for roles as scam developers or phishing partners.

CSO spoke with Dean Turner, Director, Global Intelligence Network, Symantec Technology and Response, for his take on the results.

What was most compelling thing about these findings for you?

I think first and foremost it's the scope: The actual dollar amounts we are talking about, in terms of money lost and potential values and advertised values. Five years ago this wasn't as established as we see it today. Now it's multinational, it's decentralized. In terms of just advertised prices of things for sale, we are talking about in the hundred of millions of dollars. When we add all that up, we're talking about $276 million in advertised goods that we observed in a one year period. We chart things like credit cards, for instance. The potential worth of credit cards traded online during that year was around $5.3 billion.

Five, ten years ago we were talking about people trading wares. People were trading software and making that available. Now we have credit cards, personal identities, bank accounts. I don't think anyone has ever put numbers to that. We are talking about billions of billions of dollars worldwide. This is a serious economic problem.

Talk about that a bit more. Are you saying this is a serious problem for the individuals affected, the victims? Or are you stating there is a larger economic impact to this?

I'm referring first and foremost to individuals. But I think it has larger economic impact because of the model itself. When we look at the way that they are doing this and its anonymous nature, it has larger implications when we talk about how we put a stop to this. How does law enforcement do that? We obviously need increased cooperation between law enforcement agencies worldwide. Criminals are using things like Internet Relay Chat -- which is highly anonymous and difficult to track. If we can't indentify who and where the criminals are, all the cooperation in the world won't make it any easier to find them. How are we going to put a clamp down on this problem? And obviously, when we look at these numbers, we see this is a problem that isn't getting better, it's getting worse.

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