Feeds

Viruses, phishing, and trojans for profit

Malware is big money

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

Phishing fraud in aggregate

Phishing fraud has also proven itself to be enormously profitable in aggregate. In just a few years, "phishing" has become a household name for stealing banking details from hapless victims over the internet. There's a sucker born every minute, and they all use email nowadays – thanks to our woefully insecure e-mail system, people get lured to a fake site. What might be surprising is how quickly a phisher can turn a profit and convert that "virtual money" into real cash.

At Virus Bulletin this year, Guillaume Lovet from Fortinet gave an interesting presentation about "dirty money on the wires: the business models of cyber criminals" where he detailed the often complex set of arrangements behind the Big Population risk. His accompanying paper was published in the proceedings of the 16th Virus Bulletin International Conference.

From younger workers doing technical grunt work to older folks doing the money laundering and interacting with organised crime, the illicit business model runs the full gamut of criminal activity. Most interesting to me was Lovet's discussion of the intense profitability around phishing – after he presented a typical phishing business model, he compared its profitability to the manufacture and sale of heroin.

More incredibly, he argued that electronic phishing scams might just be even more profitable than selling drugs. The exact numbers and the drug analogy can be disputed, of course. But based on the short time needed and the large payoff I'd say there's probably less risk of getting caught doing phishing (as opposed to selling drugs) as well. Lovet found that a typical phishing profit might range from $2,500 to $25,000 - not bad for a day's work.

Looking at the groups behind the theft gives a keen insight to the business of cyber crime. Low risk, high profit, and it's unlikely that the criminals will get caught. No wonder phishing has exploded in just a few years. More than that, it's unlikely that the victims will even know something was wrong with their Windows computer until their identity, banking, or credit card details are compromised and used. That $499 PC purchased mail-order for your aunt isn't looking so attractive any more, is it?

That's pretty much where we are today. The only problem with Lovet's analysis, as I could see, is around getting hard numbers and actual case studies – but understand that the very nature of the crime means that this sort of data is likely only held by the FBI, Interpol, and other national police agencies. And for every crime ring they crack, there are countless more that go unpunished.

Big money from the Little Guy

It's pretty common to find viruses or trojans now that encrypt a user's hard drive and then demand a ransom to give the data back. This is a somewhat targeted attack focusing on individuals, the Little Guy, and is small potatoes for the most part (unless you're one of the victims). Where it gets interesting is with the upturn in targeted trojans that seek out individual companies and then try one do one thing very, very well.

Targeted trojan attacks are just as one might expect: software that is very focused on stealing from individual companies in a stealthy manner. The people behind these trojans are criminal hackers going after some very specific types of data from within just one target: a large bank, a military installation, a Fortune 500 company or a government office. They craft a customised trojan horse – or purchase one – that avoids detection from anti-virus software. Then they try to lure at least one person from the target organization to install it, and voila. Reconnaissance begins. The trojan could be sent via e-mail, but that seems unlikely because it's so obvious. Even accounting people today know not to click on unknown attachments in email.

But what about a blended attack, a malicious Word or Excel document sent in email with a zero-day exploit? Or it could be as simple as sending the victim a link to a web page with a zero-day exploit for Internet Explorer, easily infecting the machine and prompting the download and installation of a malicious trojan. Step one is complete.

These are threats that are very difficult to detect, because by their nature they almost always avoid the signature-based detection models used by anti-virus software – no signature will have been created yet because none of the AV companies would have seen this exact trojan signature before. Some types of heuristics in various AV software can still identity unknown trojans, but the results are not always consistent or reliable. The point of this discussion is that sometimes the Little Guy, the individual or isolated company, is not so little after all.

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

More from The Register

next story
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Researcher sat on critical IE bugs for THREE YEARS
VUPEN waited for Pwn2Own cash while IE's sandbox leaked
Four fake Google haxbots hit YOUR WEBSITE every day
Goog the perfect ruse to slip into SEO orfice
Putin: Crack Tor for me and I'll make you a MILLIONAIRE
Russian Interior Ministry offers big pile o' roubles for busting pro-privacy browser
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.