Cybercrime Calculus

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By Matt Windsor

Q&A with Gary Warner, director of research in computer forensics at UAB

Who is behind cybercrime? Traditional gangs or upstarts?

Most of the big crime families are run by older people, and older people still don’t understand what technology can do for them—in straight jobs as well as criminal jobs. What we’re seeing is the emergence of new criminal organizations that don’t have ties to the old structure. There are 28-year-old kids running crime gangs with hundreds of members.

cyber6Are these just kids in their parents’ basements?

To really be able to make a fortune in malware, you have to have a pretty advanced organization. We’re seeing multimillion-dollar organizations that hire professional programmers to write the code for them and that have teams of people working on different types of fraud. The more sophisticated criminals who have these supporting organizations have moved from phishing to malware. The banks are still losing millions per month to phishing attacks, but malware is now taking tens of millions. Malware is going to cost the United States billions of dollars this year.

And the problem is getting worse?

It’s almost to the point that the only reason you haven’t lost money is that the criminals haven’t gotten around to using your credit card yet. When the authorities arrested a hacker called Ground Zero in March 2012, he had 8.1 million people’s credentials on his computer. The scale is just staggering.

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