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Russian Cybergangs Stole Some $790 Million Over 3 Years

More than $500 million of that is from victims located outside the borders of the former USSR, Kaspersky Lab reveals.

Russian cybercriminals stole at least $790 million between 2012 and 2015 from individuals, businesses, and financial institutions around the world, a new report from Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab shows.

Of this, some $509 million was stolen from victims in the US, the European Union, and other countries outside what used to be the former USSR.

Impressive as the amounts are, the actual financial damages caused by Russia’s cybercriminals could much greater, the Kaspersky Lab report says. The current loss estimates are based only on an analysis of information gathered from over 160 arrests of Russian-language speaking cybercriminals over the last three years as well as Kaspersky Lab’s own data. It does not reflect the damages caused by those who have not been caught yet.

“Over the last few years, cybercriminals have been increasingly attacking not just the customers of banks and online stores, but the enabling banks and payments systems directly,” the report says.

The number of people arrested for such activities increased significantly this year, but the arrests appear to have hardly made a dent. If anything, Russia’s cyber underground has become even more crowded.

Russian cyber gangs have recruited about 1,000 people over the last three years, many of whom are involved in creating the infrastructure and writing and distributing the malware code used to steal money from targets. Interestingly, many of those arrested are still not in prison, highlighting the challenges involved in getting people involved in such crimes extradited out of Russia.

Kaspersky’s research showed that there are at least five organized cyber groups focused specifically on financial crimes. Each of the groups has been operating for at least two years and range in size from 10- to 40 people. Two of the groups are actively engaged in attacking targets in the US, France, UK, Australia, Germany,and Italy.

Many of the top operators in the Russian-language underground function like regular businesses, offering a suite of products and services. Products typically include malware for breaking into computers and mobile devices, exploits that take advantage of known and unknown software flaws, and databases of stolen credit and debit card data.

The services run the gamut from spam distribution, DDoS attacks, antivirus detection, and exploit pack rentals to credit card data evaluation and validation services, SEO services for promoting malicious services, and stolen cash withdrawal services.

Most of the products and services are geared towards enabling theft of personal information, theft of money from financial institutions, domestic and international corporate espionage, ransomware schemes, and DDoS attacks. The preferred currency for carrying out transactions in these markets includes e-payment systems such as Bitcoin, Perfect Money, and WebMoney, the Kaspersky Lab report said.

One indication of the flourishing nature of the Russian cyber underground is the fact that it offers plenty of job opportunities for aspiring cybercriminals. Those with the requisite skills can find employment in roles like programming and virus writing, web designing for phishing pages for instance, system administration, and testing. Even cryptographers have opportunities as ‘cryptors’ for packing malicious code so as to evade malware detection.

In terms of a pecking order, virus writers and those in charge of money mules sit at the top reporting directly to the leader. Systems administrators and money mules sit at the bottom.

Employees are typically recruited through underground websites but in some cases ads are placed on legitimate job search websites and labor exchanges. “By advertising 'real' job vacancies, cybercriminals often expect to find employees from the remote regions of Russia and neighboring countries (mostly Ukraine) where problems with employment opportunities and salaries for IT specialists are quite severe,” the Kaspersky report says.

People working for such criminal endeavors typically fall into two categories: those who are fully aware of the illegality of their work but embrace it anyway, and those who at least initially are unaware of the true nature of their employers.


Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

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