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A Look at Cybercrime's Banal Nature

Cybercrime is becoming a more boring business, a new report shows, and that's a huge problem for victims and law enforcement.

A new study of the black market supporting cybercriminals shows how closely the workings of this underground echoes that of the legitimate business world.

From product reviews and online reputation to free samples and technical support, cybercriminals need the same sort of services used by any consumer. In the criminal world. those tend to require knowledge of the specific URL, a Tor browser, and one or more layers of introduction, but the service economy around criminal hacking is becoming as important as the direct criminal activity it supports, according to the study by security firm Armor.

Criminal activity itself is also evolving into a services sector, with multiple tiers of features and services offerings. Take the Blow-bot botnet, which Armor's report highlighted with one of these multi-tiered offerings. A "seller offered to rent out the Blow-bot botnet, which includes webinject and other capabilities, for either $750 or $1,200 a month depending on whether the renter wanted a fully-featured version. Support was an extra $100 or $150 a month, respectively," the report said.

The rise of malware as a service isn't news, but it's notable because it allows so many non-technical criminals to enter the marketplace. "The barrier to entry for cybercrime remains perilously low, making it that much more important that organizations and individuals focus on security," Armor said in its report.

Armor found a definite pyramid structure in place for valuable personal information such as credit card account data. There are "likely only a handful of major credit card data farmers doing the majority of the data theft," the report said, who then work through a series of wholesalers and distributors that any canned-good manufacturer would recognize as a way to get their wares into the hands of customers.

The ultimate conclusions of the Armor report reflect the utter banality of most cybercrime. Criminal hacking has become a white-collar business with professional practitioners who expect white-collar salaries (and benefits.) The bad news for victims is that these professional criminals and criminal support actors are competent professionals at their chosen tasks. 

On the other hand, there is good news: Recent law-enforcement wins have disrupted the support networks for cybercriminals. Ultimately, though, as Armor warned in its report: "The tools, documents and services threat actors need are readily available, which means big businesses, small organizations and home users alike need to follow security best practices and stay on guard to stay safe."

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About the Author(s)

Curtis Franklin, Principal Analyst, Omdia

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Principal Analyst at Omdia, focusing on enterprise security management. Previously, he was senior editor of Dark Reading, editor of Light Reading's Security Now, and executive editor, technology, at InformationWeek, where he was also executive producer of InformationWeek's online radio and podcast episodes

Curtis has been writing about technologies and products in computing and networking since the early 1980s. He has been on staff and contributed to technology-industry publications including BYTE, ComputerWorld, CEO, Enterprise Efficiency, ChannelWeb, Network Computing, InfoWorld, PCWorld, Dark Reading, and ITWorld.com on subjects ranging from mobile enterprise computing to enterprise security and wireless networking.

Curtis is the author of thousands of articles, the co-author of five books, and has been a frequent speaker at computer and networking industry conferences across North America and Europe. His most recent books, Cloud Computing: Technologies and Strategies of the Ubiquitous Data Center, and Securing the Cloud: Security Strategies for the Ubiquitous Data Center, with co-author Brian Chee, are published by Taylor and Francis.

When he's not writing, Curtis is a painter, photographer, cook, and multi-instrumentalist musician. He is active in running, amateur radio (KG4GWA), the MakerFX maker space in Orlando, FL, and is a certified Florida Master Naturalist.

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