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Anti-Cybercrime Efforts Losing Ground In Economic Crisis

New reports predict cybercrime's rise to further fuel economic crisis, and abuse of Flash for distributing crimeware
The global economic crisis isn't just providing cybercriminals with plenty of opportunity for fraud. It's also diverting attention away from anti-cybercrime efforts, according to a newly released report.

Cybercrime already hadn't been a high enough priority for governments, according to McAfee's new 2009 Virtual Criminology Report. And now the bad guys are taking advantage of the Internet's popularity and an increasingly anxious public worried about the economy as well as terrorism, according to the report.

"You've got governments de-emphasizing cybercrime, looking at terrorism and [other] crime," says David Marcus, director of security research and communications for McAfee Avert Labs. "De-emphasizing an area of crime that's already difficult to capture and prosecute is only going to fuel [cybercriminals'] interest, and then they know they can do this more impunity.

"There's a lack of skilled investigators and judges, too...this is not a recipe for success," Marcus says. "I hope it doesn't take a big digital Pearl Harbor."

The report -- authored by cybercrime experts at McAfee, former White House special adviser for cybersecurity Howard Schmidt, and other security luminaries -- also raises the question of whether this simultaneous de-emphasis of cybercrime and increase in cybercrime activity will hurt the economy even more.

"Right from the beginning of the economic downturn, spam began leveraging [it]," Marcus says. "And with cybercrime not being a priority, it [could] make the economy worse."

Even if cybercriminals are pursued, it's tough to take on cases when there's little international cooperation for it, the report says. "Local issues mean laws are difficult to enforce transnationally. Cybercriminals will therefore always retain the edge unless serious resources are allocated to international efforts," the report says. And Russia and China have become the hotbeds of cybercrime, whereas Brazil and Moldova are used as decoys -- cybercriminals route their traffic through those two regions to cover the actual origin.

Meanwhile, most courts don't have enough knowledge and expertise in digital forensics and malware to properly prosecute cybercrime cases, Marcus says.

And it's not the high-profile cases capturing the public's attention that reflect the real problem, he says. "People are suffering from Trojan-stealing, identity theft, malware, and drive-bys," he says. "[These] low-hanging ones that fly under the radar are more indicative of the real problem...most malware is password-stealing Trojans targeting tens of millions of users."

In another report released today on Web security by Finjan Software, cybercriminals are increasingly using Adobe Flash applications as a way to distribute crimeware, which in turn now includes tools for creating malicious PDF files to attack corporate PCs. "HTML JavaScript is looked on as suspicious [by filtering tools], and criminals realize that as well," says Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CTO at Finjan. "They are looking for a way to boost malicious code and execute in the browser...they are trying to find a side door, and that's the Flash file."

Flash-based ads will become a major tool for cybercriminals in 2009, according to Finjan. What makes Flash so appealing is that it's a feature included in the browser, not a vulnerability.

Ben-Itzhak says the economic downturn also will help the bad guys by enticing desperate laid-off IT workers to purchase and deploy crimeware toolkits. "There's a higher risk that could happen," he says.

The Finjan report says laid off workers could be lured to the dark side to "give it a try and to get stolen credit card numbers, online banking accounts, and corporate data that they can use to generate income. We foresee that this quick and easy way to make money --combined with the false feeling of being safe from detection -- will entice more and more people to turn to cybercrime, similar to people turning to drug dealing for a quick buck."

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