Organized Cybercrime Revealed

By Michael Fitzgerald, CSO |  Security, cybercrime

DarkMarket started leading to arrests of prominent spammers and phishers in May 2007. It eventually closed in October 2008, after the arrest of DarkMarket's boss, a Turkish hacker whose handle was Cha0, leaving Mularski as the last leader standing. Ultimately, sixty people--most of them the most powerful members of DarkMarket--were arrested in at least four countries: Germany, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S. The FBI also got six complete malware packages and may have prevented $70 million in losses at financial services firms. Plus, it arrested Cha0 and his seven-member gang in Istanbul before they could ship out about 1,000 ATM skimmers, which prevented an additional $33 million in losses.

"Sure, they'll reorganize, but with every law enforcement action, it's a little bit harder to regroup," says Mularski.

The DarkMarket operation has at least temporarily driven many cybercriminals off of Internet Relay Chat and bulletin boards, says Team Cymru's Santorelli. They've opted instead for private instant messenger groups that they control, says Santorelli.

DarkMarket involved law enforcement groups working together across borders. That's a good step in what remains a challenge. Cybercriminals "are good at finding cracks in international law," says Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CTO of security firm Finjan. A group might be based in one country, use servers in a second and commit crimes in a third.

This problem has led to calls for better international law. For instance, Brazil has become a hotbed of bank fraud, phishing and Trojan activities since the penalties there are very light. Some are even calling for a group that can force Internet service providers to cut off servers that obviously house phishers.

More countries may be taking cybercrime seriously. While Eastern Europe is seen as a kind of Wild Cyber West, last year, Romanian police arrested 20 people in Ramnicu Valcea and Dragasani, towns known for organized eBay scams (one tried to auction off a Romanian city hall). Florin Talpes, BitDefender's CEO, says joining the European Union in 2007 has changed attitudes in Romania and in Bulgaria, which have created stronger legal frameworks for fighting cybercrime.

Mularski, however, cites Romania as a country where traditional organized crime clearly has become involved in cybercrime. The FBI arrested 35 Romanians running a phishing and ATM skimming scam in Los Angeles, and Mularski says they were connected with Romanian organized crime. He concedes that the FBI did work with Romanian law enforcement to make 80 arrests in the two countries in a separate case. At least there are arrests in Romania. That rarely happens in a place like Russia, although two unnamed Russian hackers were recently indicted in the Heartland and Hannaford hacking cases--along with US-based alleged mastermind Albert Gonzalez.

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