By now we have all had it drummed into our heads that the Internet can be a dangerous place, with scammers and thieves trying to steal credit and debit card numbers and other sensitive data. A 2013 Norton cybercrime report says more than 40% of survey respondents were victims of cyber-attacks last year.
So, just who are these bad guys trying to pick your electronic pockets? Has organized crime moved into this lucrative field? Sort of.
“It's organized but not in the way most Americans think of organized crime,” Larry Bridwell, a veteran global security specialist, told ConsumerAffairs.
In other words, this isn't something Tony Soprano and his pals have decided to exploit. While these operations are run by sophisticated gangs, it's a far cry from a typical mob operation.
“These guys may not even live in the same geographical location but will work as a team, in general,” said Bridwell, who is part of the security team at Sticky Password and has been watching these threats evolve for nearly 2 decades.
“If you go back to the mid 1990s and early 2000s, most of the people involved in making and distributing viruses, Trojan horse programs, malware, adware, those kinds of things, were young men and women that were actually trying to impress other people in their circles to show how well they could write code and how tight they could write code,” he said.
In other words, geeks.
“When the Internet became much more ubiquitous in the early 2000s some of those people realized they could make big money doing what before, they had been doing for fun,” Bridwell said. “That's when things began to become criminal.”
They also became more specialized. Bridwell says a typical gang will include people who have expertise in gathering information around the web, people with in-depth information on the Internet and the technology that makes it work, and there will be those who are very good at coding, and those who are very good at creating web sites. They all make up the modern cyber-gang.
“They do it because they've learned they can make lots of money doing this,” Bridwell said. “Some of these criminals don't run the actual scams themselves. They build the data directories that other criminals can borrow to do their nefarious work.”
These modern gangs are also a virtual United Nations of criminals. Bridwell says many members are in Eastern Europe, South American and Asia, as well as the U.S. The international nature presents major problems for law enforcement.
Who has jurisdiction?
“One of the biggest challenges is to figure our who has jurisdiction,” Bridwell said. “A U.S. consumer might have their credit card stolen from a server in Canada, controlled by a hacker in Eastern Europe.”
We find many of these criminals come from Eastern Europe, South American and here in the U.S. They're fairly dispersed. Very few work face to face with one another. They meet each other online.”
Despite all this, Bridwell says there is some good news. Slowly but surely technology companies and law enforcement are learning more about these gangs and how they're doing what they're doing.
“Organizations like Microsoft are working with law enforcement and anti-malware companies to make inroads into identifying forensic information that can help track down the perpetrators and take down their networks,” he said.