December 20, 2012, 9:43 AM — The world of cybercrime is getting more specialized as an eco-sphere of helpers in running botnet operations has developed, according to one security researcher who spent over a year monitoring online forums and communities.
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"Before, the botnet operators did everything themselves," says Derek Manky, senior threat researcher at the FortiGuard division at Fortinet, which just put out its "2013 Cybercrime Report" on the topic. But now, instead of a single group laboring on all the technical elements to run a well-oiled spam and malware botnet of compromised computers, there's a lot of third-party technical assistance. This includes crime consultants to help aspiring crooks with the botnet "rent, buy or lease" question or specialized middle-management services that help "bulletproof" botnet operations by registering oft-changing IP addresses worldwide for fast-flux performance that makes it harder to have taken them down.
And it's all paying pretty well, other than the really low end jobs like "CAPTCHA breaking" which are advertised to pay individuals $1 per 1,000 CAPTCHAs by manually entering those hard-to-read wobbly words used as a security measure at websites to prevent spam.
These low-level employees likely got this tedious job after answering an online ad for "data entry," Manky says, but even these manual "CAPTCHA Breaking" jobs play an important role in the daily crime workflow. The botnet, when it encounters Web pages with a CAPTCHA spam deterrent, will present it automatically to an employee sitting at the computer who can immediately enter the CAPTCHA answer so the botnet can go on spamming.
And how fast and accurately the botnet employee does this CAPTCHA breaking process will be automatically recorded and judged on performance. In some ways, it's not unlike an employee at a legitimate business being monitored and judged based on accurate data entry.
According to the Fortinet report, here are some of the typical going rates for cybercrime services:
- Consulting services for botnet setup: $350 to $400
- Infection and spreading services are: $100 per 1,000 installs of malware
- Botnet rentals: $535 for five hours a day for one week of distributed denial-of-service attacks; email spam costs $40 for 20,000 e-mails; and Web spam costs $2 per 30 posts.
- New versions of the ZeuS botnet code costs $3,000; Butterfly botnet code costs $900. Simplified botnets used in the rental and crime-as-a-service model are cheaper, such as Bredolab, starting at $50.