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High-tech organised crime an ever harder act to follow

Michael Crawford | Nov. 25, 2008
The hyper-innovation of cyber criminals makes them difficult to track.

Just as quickly as a character in the movie can yell "it's a three-step systematic attack on the entire national infrastructure" the problem is solved and the world saved.

But in the real world, cyber terrorism or cyber espionage takes second place to developing computer code designed to steal and siphon stolen credit card details and personal information to be used for identity theft, mainly because it is not as lucrative.

Or as dangerous.

In most cases these businesses can even launder virtual money into real-world cash, with operatives paid for their work on a sliding scale of risk.

The experts behind this online black market are as scientific and methodical in their approach to developing computer viruses as their more legitimate cousins in the world's biggest software houses.

Credit card details stolen online can either be onsold easily or the credit held on them maxed out, and online games and virtual worlds such as Second Life are extremely effective at being used as virtual money laundering houses. People buy virtual credits and then buy or trade virtual gear in the form of avatars, weapons or even virtual property online to convert the illegal funds to laundered currency.

But a lot of the time the criminals are smart enough to distance themselves from the business end of the cash conversion.

They employ instead phishing scams or "people who don't understand what they do", who unwittingly transfer money from account to account, according to Kaspersky.

"So a lot of the time police are looking at a chain of human proxies," he says. When the organisers realise a human proxy has been caught, they cut their losses and start a new scam.


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