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TrendRussia's hackers a growing global threat

Published 30 December 2008

There used to be a time when Russian hackers exposed chinks in American software just for the thrill of it; today they do it for cash — or for political reasons; cybercrime has outpaced the amount of illicit cash raked in by global drug trafficking

Those were simpler days when Russian hackers exposed chinks in American software just for the thrill of it. Not anymore. Today they do it for cash. Almost all the targets are in the United States and Europe, where Russia’s notoriously capable hackers pilfer online bank accounts, swipe Social Security numbers, steal credit card data, and peek at e-mail log-ins and passwords as part of what some estimate to be a $100 billion-a-year global cyber-crime business (see 20 November 2008 HS Daily Wire).

When it is not money that drives Russian hackers, it is politics. The aim is to access or disable the computers, Web sites, and security systems of governments opposed to Russian interests (see stories about Estonia and Georgia in 2 September 2008 and 2 December 2008 HS Daily Wire). This may have been the motive behind a recent attack on Pentagon computers.

Chicago Tribune’s Alex Rodriguez reports that a new generation of Russian hacker is behind America’s latest criminal scourge. From behind the protection offered by anonymous online hacking forums, these young and intelligent hackers boast about why they use their programming savvy to spam and steal, mostly from the West. “Why should I take a regular job after graduating and exert myself to earn just $2,000 a month, rather than grab this chance to make money?” says a Russian hacker on a cyber-crime forum that specializes in credit card fraud. “It makes sense to get as much as you can, as quickly as possible, rather than wasting time working for someone else.”

Some analysts say that cybercrime has outpaced the amount of illicit cash raked in by global drug trafficking. Hackers from Russia and China are among the chief culprits, and the threat they pose now extends far beyond spam, identity theft, and bank heists.

As we wrote back in November, experts in global crime say that international regulation must be improved to avoid Internet crime from causing global catastrophe. Damage caused by cyber crime is estimated at $100 billion annually, said Kilian Strauss, of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). “These criminals, they outsmart us 10, or a hundred to one,” said Strauss. Such online criminal organizations operate in a regulatory vacuum, committing crimes such as espionage, money laundering, and theft of personal information, experts told the European Economic Crime conference in Frankfurt. “We need multilateral understanding, account and oversight to avoid, in the years to come, a cyber crisis equivalent to the current financial crisis,” said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.