Technology has brought about many positive effects to better our personal lives and grow our businesses. On the flip side, these same technology advances have also provided individuals with malicious intent a very powerful means to create a different type of market – the Cyber Crime Underground Market.
Gone are the days where technology is merely a device, equipment or a tool used by individuals, organizations and businesses. Today, technology has become a critical and crucial part of our personal lives and businesses. From the corners of our kitchen to every cubicle in our offices, one can no longer function without technology. Companies who did not adapt to the fast-growing sophistication of technology became extinct and people who refused to embrace technology into their lives became isolated. Technology has changed our lives. It made us feel closer to our loved ones who are miles away from us and it provided organizations the means to catapult their top-line to the highest possible level. Technology has practically invaded our homes, our offices, our lives.
This same technology has also provided the pedophiles and perverts the means to commit their crimes in an easy, fast, and untraceable manner. Unscrupulous individuals whom we used to brand as criminals have found a very effective tool to commit crimes in a clandestine and anonymous way. Thus, we now call them cybercriminals. A new term added to a simple word, caused a paradigm shift in dealing with technology-related crimes.
Growing underground market
While we are aware of the growing number of cyber crime cases, from child pornography, hacktivism, to website defacements and data theft from computer systems, a more disturbing issue is what we often fail to see, the business side of cyber crime in the underground market. In 2011, the GIB CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) of Russia estimated the global cyber crime market to be US$12.5 billion. Services that can be availed include the following: online fraud, spam service, Cyber Crime to Cyber Crime market (C2C), and DDoS attack service. Adding to these services are online pornography, online child abuse, identity theft, credit card fraud and cyber assassination. To commit cyber crime, your imagination is the only limitation.
In the Philippines, the opportunity to make easy money through cyberspace illegally, attracted not only the malicious minds of the criminals, but also the poor Filipino families residing in major cities and the remote areas where internet connection is available. The instinct of survival and the easy means of earning a living pushed some Filipino parents to sell their children online. Cases of children being abused online with their parents acting as pimps are growing. Today, pedophiles and perverts can easily access a wide range of pornographic photos or pay a minimum of US$100 per hour for live streaming of children performing sexual acts. For families struggling to make ends meet, this is a huge amount of money.
To date, it is close to impossible to put a definite figure on the size and coverage of the underground market and the services it provides. Computer crime is no longer just about a hacker who has the expertise to successfully compromise a system and steal data for profit. The emergence of powerful search engines makes the cyber crime issue more challenging and complicated to prevent. The mentioned websites are considered to be an information highway where any person with or without technical knowhow can download and learn hacking techniques easily.
Adding to the list is the availability of cyber crime tools that can be purchased through the dark web. These are websites not accessible using the usual web browsers like Google Chrome, Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer, but can only be accessed using specially crafted browsers like TOR Browsers. Interested individuals can buy and download highly sophisticated tools, newly released exploits and payloads, malwares and other malicious software useable for any type of cyber crime activities.
Cyber crime: Low risk high return
Crimes committed with the aid of technology allow bank robbers to steal money from banks without limits and without the risk of getting caught during the execution of the crime. Credit cards are being compromised not only by tens or by the hundreds but by hundreds of thousands. A highly knowledgeable hacker can steal the entire database of a bank containing bank accounts and credit card information, which are then sold like a normal commodity both offline and online. Debit and ATM cards are favorite targets of these cybercriminals. Once acquired, the information is used to clone cards and sent to money mules around the world to make cash withdrawals from ATM machines.
To add insult to injury, investigating and prosecuting cybercriminals is nothing similar to the way we deal with traditional crimes. Extracting and gathering digital evidence, not to mention presenting it in court, makes it more difficult for our law enforcement agencies to file a case and convict cybercriminals.
There is no doubt that cyber crime is a big threat to our social and economic security. The continuing sophistication of technology is polluting the minds and morals of our children. Cybercriminals are gaining grounds and taking advantage of the underground market, while we fall prey and helpless every time we connect ourselves to the internet. Norton’s 2016 cyber crime report showed that 689 million people in 21 countries experienced cyber crime including identity theft, money stolen from bank accounts and credit cards. And since 2015, victims spent US$126 billion globally dealing with internet crime.
According to the FBI, cyber crime represents an underground economy of $114 billion that is highly organized, employs expert hackers and operates like a legitimate global economy. Cyber crime is on the rise among American businesses and is costing the U.S. economy very badly. Cyber crime knows no boundaries. Everyone is a target. Governments, organizations, business and individuals are probable victims.
The cost needed to protect is very high while the cost required to commit cyber crime is very cheap. It is a low risk high return type of crime. To develop an end-to-end and highly effective protection means hiring the best of the best in the field. Policies and procedures must be reviewed and updated regularly, systems must be updated and tested periodically and people skills must be upgraded continuously.
Global effort needed to combat the cyber crime underground market
All of us will have to deal with cyber crime one way or another. But we cannot do it alone. The underground market has been growing due to the fact that the victims are unaware, businesses are not spending enough to protect their assets, organizations are too dependent and confident that they will not be attacked, and governments are too busy to prioritize this type of threat. Security devices are becoming more intelligent but more expensive. Cyber attacks are learning faster than security mitigations can react. Firewalls can be bypassed, Intrusion prevention systems can be defeated and antivirus solutions are not able to create patches quicker than needed.
Since the internet started, the cost of cyber crime has kept on growing by the millions of dollars, despite having created laws, implemented company policies and streamlined procedures. The global community needs to do more, we need to act fast, be decisive, aggressive and strategic. Coordination, cooperation, information sharing and responding quickly on a local, national and global level must be our cybersecurity imperative.