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Senior Editor, Network World

World of botnet cybercrime paying pretty well these days

Dec 19, 20124 mins
BotnetsCybercrimeData and Information Security

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.

RELATED: Baddest botnets of 2012

“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.

– Remote-access Trojans for targeted attacks, with screen shot and webcam capabilities: about $250 for malware Gh0st Rat, Poison Ivy and Turkojan.

– Exploit kits GPack, MPack, IcePack and Eleonore: $1,000 to $2,000. Crypters, Packers and Binders to generally avoid detection: $10 to $100.

– Blackhat search-engine optimization: $80 for 20,000 spammed backlinks

– Specialized password cracking (“Cloud Cracking”): $17 for 300 million attempts, which takes about 20 minutes.

– Installing malicious code on a victim’s computer: $110 per 1,000 installs in the U.S. But it costs only $8 in Asia, probably because there’s more money to be made in the U.S. and computers in Asia tend to be highly compromised by malware already, Manky points out.

Manky says cybercrime today appears to more frequently adopt English as the global lingua franca for communications in online forums, including those once viewed as exclusively Russian. However, Chinese operations don’t seem to use English that much, he says.

There are many ways that online cybercrime today more and more mirrors commercial business activity. For instance, in one forum Manky infiltrated he spotted some serious data analytics being done on what were hundreds of thousands of compromised computers used in a botnet to determine the nature of the computer owners. “It was data-mining,” he notes.

The report points out that governments around the world have found it very hard to stop the cybercrime wave, though there are a few successes of note, such as some big botnet takedowns in the past few years.

But aside from dismantling a botnet’s command-and-control center, another preventative way to curb crimeware is to not allow people to register these domains,” the Fortinet report says. “As much as China has been chided for its lax cyber policing, the country has taken several positive steps towards legitimizing registration for their domains (.CN), including relying on paper-based registration forms to better screen and maintain quality over who is registering domains. Also, the Conficker Working Group helped to filter out domains in advance before they could be registered to prevent the spread of that particular botnet.”

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail:

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