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Contributing writer

US cyber criminal underground a shopping free-for-all

Dec 07, 20154 mins

The North American cyber criminal underground isn't buried as deep as in other geographies

According to a new report by Trend Micro, the North American cyber criminal underground isn’t buried as deep as in other geographies.

“It doesn’t exist in the dark web as much as other undergrounds do, or practice as much security,” said Tom Kellermann, chief cybersecurity officer at Trend Micro. “Essentially, it’s become a gun show for everyone as long as they can participate and are willing to pay.”

In addition to offering guns, as well as murder for hire, there’s also drugs, money laundering, bullet-proof hosting, and hacking services available.

It’s a bonanza of services and capabilities, he said, allowing traditional criminals and organized crime groups to become cyber-capable.

That can be appealing to less tech-savvy customers, but has its downside for the criminals, as well.

“We’ve done studies and exposes of the most significant undergrounds in the world,” Kellermann said. “The U.S. underground doesn’t practice operational security. They’ve essentially become a shopping mall.”

Tom Kellermann, chief cybersecurity officer at Trend Micro

As a result, he said, law enforcement will probably be more effective in attacking its organizational structure — which will, eventually, drive more of it to the dark Web.

In the early 2000s, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies pretty much dismantled the U.S. cyber criminal underground, he said, but it’s made a resurgence in the past three years.

There are now more than 100,000 participants, Kellermann said, more than there were in the early 2000s.

“It’s larger because it’s providing a wider multiplicity of goods and services,” he said. “They’re there for the drugs, weapons, passports, stolen cards, and murder for hire. It’s a one-stop shop for criminals to facilitate their conspiracies, to bypass traditional security, and to launder money.”

Drugs are the hottest commodity, accounting for 62 percent of all sites.

Stolen credit cards are also widely available, including the new EMV and chip cards, with money-back guarantees and escrow payment services.

There are also Hulu, Netflix and other online services available at steep discounts over legitimate prices. And identity documents such as passports, drivers’ licenses, and insurance cards, with prices varying based on quality and nationality of buyer.

Stolen data dumps account for 16 percent of all sites, fake documents for 4 percent, and weapons for 2 percent.

topshops chart lg

For those looking to order some hands-on violence, providers offer menus of services, with prices ranging from $3,000 for a simple beating, up to $900,000 for an “accidental death” of a high-profile person with up to five guards.

These murder for hire sites account for 1 percent of the North American underground sites, according to Trend Micro.

Targeted attacks

Of particular interest to enterprise security professionals, however, is the 15 percent of sites that offer crimeware and allow criminals to buy a variety of malware and hacking services, such as crypting.

It’s the hottest-selling item, other than drugs, he said. The service providers encrypt the malware as many times as it takes until it is no longer detected by any of the standard anti-malware tools available on the market.

“it’s why targeted attacks have become so prevalent,” said Kellermann. “They will make sure their attacks cannot be stopped by perimeter defenses.”

Prices range from $20 for a single crypt on one file to $1,000 per month for unlimited crypts on an unlimited number of files.

In addition, criminals can buy ongoing access to enterprises.

“In the Russian or Chinese underground, they won’t sell you the back door into the system,” Kellerman said. “That’s a North American phenomenon. It’s like, I broke into a house last night, I made a duplicate of the key. You want it, you got it.”

It’s not enough for homeowners to keep their doors and windows locked, he said. They also need to keep a Rottweiler inside the house.

The access is used to steal data, but also as a base for attacking other enterprises — and for attacking the same enterprise over and over again.

“It really leads to the reality of so much hacking between networks occurring, and why so many organizations are suffering from secondary infections,” he said. “They’re getting hit again and again from in the inside out.”