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A Comprehensive Look At China's Cybercrime Culture

Trend Micro report offers a full view of espionage and theft perpetrated by Chinese hackers.

By pairing an apathy toward the law and a lot of well-executed ingenuity, Chinese cybercriminals have built a business empire as robust as any enterprise in the legal world. According to a new report out today by Trend Micro's Forward-Looking Threat Research Team, the illegal products and services bubbling up out of the cauldron that is China's cybercrime black market are as robust and mature as they are plentiful and cheap. The result is powering the entire cybercrime economy in China and beyond.

"New hardware and channels have gone beyond being mere proofs of concept (PoCs) to become the working models driving the cybercrime trends in China today," writes report author Lion Gu.

On the channels side, a big example of that is the rise of search engines designed to sift through a mountain of already stolen data stores and offer up criminals specific information for sale. It's essentially online shopping for stolen data -- and it is fueling a powerful cycle of future cybercrime by providing cheap and easy access to information about prospective targets.

"The data leaked underground allows attackers to commit crimes like financial fraud, identity and intellectual property theft, espionage, and even extortion," writes Gu. "Armed with sensitive or potentially damaging information on a politician, for instance, like leaked personal details on an extramarital affair website, a cybercriminal can discredit the target who may be lobbying for the approval of, say, the national cybercrime bill."

Meanwhile, on the hardware front, Chinese advancements in criminal hardware are bringing forward a range of new skimming devices meant to simplify the process of retail theft of card data. This includes POS skimmers, ATM skimmers and pocket skimmers with a raft of conveniently devious features.

"Some of the PoS skimmers sold underground even have an SMS-notification feature. This allows cybercriminals to instantly get their hands on stolen data via SMS every time the tampered devices are used," writes Gu. "Cybercriminals do not even have to physically collect stolen information from installed devices."

The previous examples are just the highlights of a host of dozens of products and services that make up the Chinese black market, which is "as robust as they are unique," the report says. In addition to standards like botnet rental, toolkit access, and bulletproof hosting, the market also offers other remarkable ways the crooks have monetized creative lawlessness. For example, for a little over $7,000, a buyer can get into the list of the Apple App Store's 25 free apps list. And for as little as $80, a criminal can pick up a fake banking site to perpetrate more convincing scams.

"These offerings are available to any enterprising criminal from anywhere in the world," the report says.


Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading.  View Full Bio

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