Children recruited to commit cyber crime claims report

McAfee says that computer users are at risk from a range of criminal activities – often commited by gullible youngsters.

A pan-European study into organised crime and the Internet reveals how irrestistable the Internet is to criminals who see it as a low risk way of making money.

‘Aside from the scale that’s available, and the fact that they don’t have to be there to commit the crime, there isn’t the legislation to subsequently apprehend them after the event` said Lee Fisher, McAfee Security Strategist. `These opportunities didn’t exist before the Internet. And this makes it more attractive than traditional crimes.

Amongst the crimes highlighted are protection rackets – in particular threatening bookies with DoS attacks ahead of big sporting events and identity theft often following phishing exploits.

The report drawsattention to the phenomenon of criminals recruiting child labour. Such naive computer-savvy kids will either write and modify bots or simply act as mules, transferring money out of hacked bank accounts and sending it to the foreign accounts of the criminal gangs.

Fisher warns that this is just the beginning. ‘The old romantic notion of a virus writer is dead,’ he said referring to the legend of the free-spirited hacker that wrote for the peer prestige and not financial gain. ‘Now the dirty criminal underworld is involved,’ he said. ‘They have realised they can implement certain crimes online. And there are many benefits.

‘Take phishing. Levels are actually fairly low compared with the offline equivalent. And banks right now are happy to stump up the fee to cover any losses incurred through phishing. But in the next two to three years this will change,’ he warned.

Spain’s Juan Salom of Grupo de Delincuencia Informatica, says fraud, child pornography, viruses, hacking and software piracy are rife on his online beat, ‘although there are many more types of crime on the Internet that are totally uncontrollable.’

Law enforcement agencies admit there isn’t really a mechanism for reporting crime. Fisher said: ‘If a burglar breaks into your house you phone the police. But if you have a virus on your computer, then what do you do?’

The reports authors say that victims need to come forward. Often, fore example, online betting shops don’t report threats for fear of losing business.

Germany’s Bundeskriminalamt police force says that although only a few reported cases involve hacking or viruses, ‘We assume a large number of unknown cases for these threats, because companies don’t always report these attacks to the police. Most of the attacks claimed by hackers have not been reported by the victims.’

Our own dedicated National Hi-Tech Crime Unit is seen as a model for other European members. It has recognised the growth in online threats from organised crime and has set up the Serious Organised Crime Agency. However, it too is frustrated with victims’ reluctance to come forward.

‘There are five or six steps everyone must take for safe computing,’ said Fisher. It’s not simply about protecting your machine, and your data. Even if you don’t value anything on your PC, by connecting it to the Internet unprotected you’re inviting criminals to come and use it for a multitude of sins, from spam server, to a drone in a distributed denial of service attack, or worse.`

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