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[ISN] Mobs Turn Net into Money Machine
From: InfoSec News (isnc4i.org)
Date: Wed Oct 08 2003 - 09:49:31 CDT
Oct. 07, 2003
LONDON -- Organized crime syndicates have stepped up their presence on
the Internet, operating extortion rackets, child-pornography rings and
elaborate financial scams, Britain's top cybercop told Reuters.
And the most vulnerable target is the individual Web user, said
Detective Chief Superintendent Len Hynds, head of the U.K.'s National
Hi-Tech Crime Unit, or NHTCU.
"Organized crime is turning to the weakest element in the chain, which
is the people. It's the hands on the keyboard on either end of the
transaction that is the actual weak point," Hynds said.
The crime syndicates, he said, are based in every corner of the globe.
Investigations have led the NHTCU repeatedly to Eastern European
countries, including Ukraine, Russia and Latvia.
The groups have honed their Internet skills as a greater flow of
business is conducted online.
"Organized crime in all its guises is extremely flexible. It does spot
the new and lucrative opportunity," Hynds said.
In the NHTCU's two-year existence, the 55-person task force has made
nearly 110 arrests for such age-old crimes as blackmail and extortion
as well as decidedly high-tech computer hacking cases.
Law-enforcement officials throughout the world suspect crime rings are
recruiting technically savvy programmers to concoct fraud schemes
against banks and businesses.
An increasingly common scam hitting financial institutions is known as
"website spoofing," in which a fraudster sets up a bogus online
business that closely resembles a bank or business website.
The aim is to lure unsuspecting Internet users to the phony site in an
effort to get them to submit their credit card and bank details. The
NHTCU said 40 U.K. businesses have been hit by the spoofing scam so
far this year, up from seven a year ago.
Hacking attacks, once considered the domain of bored teenagers looking
to prove their Net skills, also have become an increasingly common
weapon in organized crime's arsenal, said Hynds.
Some have launched "denial of service" attacks -- which consist of a
crippling barrage of data capable of knocking Net companies offline --
against Internet service providers and online casinos.
Under such a scenario, the groups threaten to unleash the attacks on
businesses unless they pay a ransom.
But the most active area for the NHTCU, and similar investigative
teams, continues to be breaking up child-pornography rings. Nearly
half of the 110 arrests made by the unit have been for
pedophilia-related charges, Hynds said.
"We are focusing on the organized groups that are making money out of
peddling child pornography on the Internet. We are doing that in
partnership with business and industry," he said.
"We've deployed officers from this office overseas to physically
remove children to places of safety," he added.
International police forces have been tackling the rise of child
pornography online with greater success recently. Last week, German
police said they cracked a global pedophile ring that involved 26,500
computer users from 166 countries.
The NHTCU also is investigating links between virus writers and
extremist groups as it prepares defenses for a possible attack. The
crime-fighting unit has started working with antivirus firms to
identify patterns in the source code of the most damaging Internet
worms and viruses to determine whether they are the work of organized
subversive groups or crime syndicates.
The hope is that buried somewhere in the lines of code will be clues
to the authors' identities, motives and, possibly, future acts of
Of the dozens of viruses and worms that emerge on the Internet each
week, none have been traced back to organized crime or subversives
aiming to disrupt a country's infrastructure.
But as increasingly sophisticated programs surface, law enforcement
officials are preparing themselves for this type of cyberwarfare.
"It's a tactic that could be utilized," said Hynds. "We've seen
legitimate programs used in a way which allows people to have remote
access to compromised systems. And similarly, viruses, Trojans and
worms can be used by organized crime to launch attacks."
The challenge for law enforcement is in catching the suspects. Police
have tracked down an increasing number of virus writers lately, but
creators of the most-damaging outbreaks remain at large and, some
security officials say, may never be caught.
Some increasingly potent viruses and worms, including this summer's
Sobig.F virus and Blaster worm, wreaked havoc on corporate and
government computer systems around the world.
Sobig.F carried a type of Trojan program. A mounting concern among
security officials everywhere is that a Trojan -- so named because
they embed themselves on infected machines and give virus writers the
capability of controlling the computers from remote locations -- could
bore into a computer network and compromise, say, a police
emergency-response phone system or air-traffic control system.
A digital attack in isolation would inflict relatively little damage,
experts say. But should the incident be timed to coincide with a
physical act of sabotage -- in what security experts refer to as a
"blended threat" -- the toll could be high.
With security forces on high alert in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001,
terror attacks in the United States, response plans to all potential
acts of sabotage -- digital or physical -- are being reviewed.
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