Networking: Virus writing for profit

Sep 26, 2005

Unscrupulous e-mail marketers are collaborating with criminal virus writers to combine selling questionable goods and services online with attempting to steal information from consumers, experts told United Press International's Networking.

"Spammers are now paying virus writers to make new viruses that create zombie networks that are used to send fraudulent or phishing e-mails," said John Dickinson, author of the book, "The New Anti-Virus Formula: How to Use Multilayered Security to Defeat Viruses."

Dickinson added, "The so-called phishing variant induces people to turn over the keys to their financial accounts, leading to outright theft."

Kaspersky Lab, an Internet-security company in Moscow, reports increasing evidence of criminal activity in this field since December 2004. Over the past year, company researchers have found, the virus-writing community has moved from pranksters to pros, with the result that between 70 percent and 90 percent of all malware detected by Kaspersky Lab has been written for criminal purposes, instead of the previous aim of gaining the virus writer international notoriety.

Shane Coursen, Kaspersky Lab's senior technical consultant in the United States who recently published a scholarly paper called "The Changing Threat," said virus writing is becoming a for-profit endeavor, with goals as varied as personal-identity theft to corporate espionage.

"The threat in its mildest forms -- which too often defy successful criminal prosecution -- results in disruption of day-to-day business, taking a significant toll on the profitability of companies of all sizes," Coursen said.

Other experts said collaborations between virus writers and spammers constitute a natural, symbiotic partnership.

"Anyone can send spam or a phishing e-mail," said Patrick Peterson, chief technology officer at IronPort, an IT security technology developer in San Bruno, Calif. "There are two magic ingredients to economic success on a large scale. The first is in controlling a large enough network of open proxies and compromised hosts to blast e-mail without having your footsteps traced. This is accomplished with viruses."

Next, Peterson continued, the criminals need to be able to transform stolen credit-card numbers and online bank-account numbers into cash.

"This is uniquely aligned with organized crime," he said. "Organized criminals have aggressively inserted themselves into the e-mail fraud ecosystem and play the primary role in networks like carderplanet.com and shadowcrew, which steal millions of credit-card numbers every year."

One of the fastest-growing markets for these criminal collaborators is overseas, experts said. For example, South American banks are considered a prime target for online fraud criminals. On a daily basis, according to MessageLabs, an IT-security company in New York City, approximately 20 Web sites are discovered that harbor malware aimed at compromising predominantly South American banks.

Authorities recently arrested 15 suspects from Spain, Argentina, Italy and Romania who were targeting customers in South America with illegal spam-virus combos.

According to Alex Shipp, senior anti-virus technologist at MessageLabs, the banking system in South American countries is generating a lot of interest in Internet banking, even more so than in the United States or Europe.

"This makes online banks a prime target for the high-tech gangs operating in the region who can get rich quick by selectively targeting local economic interests," Shipp said.

One tactic used by the spammers and virus writers is sending virtual postcards. In Brazil there is a massive craze for virtual-postcard sites, which allow people to send e-cards to loved ones and friends.

Shipp said, however, that these sites also provide an easy social-engineering opportunity for criminals wanting to steal users' confidential details.

"By tricking victims into downloading a Trojan instead of an electronic postcard, they can then start to monitor internet traffic with the goal of stealing usernames and passwords," he said.

Copyright 2005 by United Press International

Explore further: Why the Sony hack isn't big news in Japan

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Experts see Korean parallels in Sony hack

Dec 04, 2014

Some cybersecurity experts say they've found striking similarities between the code used in the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment and attacks blamed on North Korea which targeted South Korean companies ...

Hackers turning smartphones into slave armies

Nov 19, 2014

Mobile security firm Lookout on Wednesday warned that Android-powered smartphones or tablets are being targeted with malicious software that puts them at the mercy of hacker overlords.

Microsoft No-IP takedown to strike malware draws protests

Jul 01, 2014

Microsoft on Monday staged a takedown of two malware families abusing no-IP services but, in the mission to take down the botnets, legitimate servers depending on dynamic domain name services from No-IP were, ...

Sony attack shows shifting online security threat

Sep 04, 2014

The boundary between the online and physical worlds got blurry last week when Sony's PlayStation Network was disabled by an online attack, while simultaneously an American Airlines passenger jet carrying ...

Recommended for you

Why the Sony hack isn't big news in Japan

2 hours ago

Japan's biggest newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, featured a story about Sony Corp. on its website Friday. It wasn't about hacking. It was about the company's struggling tablet business.

Off-world manufacturing is a go with space printer

6 hours ago

On Friday, the BBC reported on a NASA email exchange with a space station which involved astronauts on the International Space Station using their 3-D printer to make a wrench from instructions sent up in ...

Cadillac CT6 will get streaming video mirror

7 hours ago

Cadillac said Thursday it will add high resolution streaming video to the function of a rearview mirror, so that the driver's vision and safety can be enhanced. The technology will debut on the 2016 Cadillac ...

Sony faces 4th ex-employee lawsuit over hack

7 hours ago

A former director of technology for Sony Pictures Entertainment has sued the company over the data breach that resulted in the online posting of his private financial and personal information.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.