Organized Crime on the Internet

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Feb 17, 2011 7:05 PM
Feb 17th, 2011

When you think about organized crime, you often think about Al Capone, the Godfather, and all the guys from the Italian mafia. Their main mission was/is only one — to make money. There are several similarities in the “mafia” some of us know from the movies and the organized crime organizations of the twenty first century. The main similarity is that they are here to make money.

According the the FBI, more than $559 million in loss were reported in the United States alone. In the past, cybercriminals were mostly people that acted alone; however, nowadays they join online communities and very well organized organizations. Their level of knowledge range from beginners to very talented programmers, hackers, and even project managers.

From the FBI website:

    “The IC3 continues to receive reports of individuals’ e-mail or social networking accounts being compromised and used in a social engineering scam to swindle consumers out of thousands of dollars. Portraying to be the victim, the hacker uses the victim’s account to send a notice to their contacts. The notice claims the victim is in immediate need of money due to being robbed of their credit cards, passport, money, and cell phone; leaving them stranded in London or some other location. Some claim they only have a few days to pay their hotel bill and promise to reimburse upon their return home. A sense of urgency to help their friend/contact may cause the recipient to fail to validate the claim, increasing the likelihood of them falling for this scam.”

If you have been a victim of this type of scam or any other Cyber crime, you can report it to the IC3 website at www.IC3.gov. The IC3 complaint database links complaints for potential referral to the appropriate law enforcement agency for case consideration. Complaint information is also used to identity emerging trends and patterns.

This is a new twist that caught my attention. There are even several rental and real estate scams running nowadays. Individuals need to be cautious when posting rental properties and real estate on-line. The IC3 continues to receive numerous complaints from individuals who have fallen victim to scams involving rentals of apartments and houses, as well as postings of real estate online.

Rental scams occur when the victim has rental property advertised and is contacted by an interested party. Once the rental price is agreed-upon, the scammer forwards a check for the deposit on the rental property to the victim. The check is to cover housing expenses and is, either written in excess of the amount required, with the scammer asking for the remainder to be remitted back, or the check is written for the correct amount, but the scammer backs out of the rental agreement and asks for a refund. Since the banks do not usually place a hold on the funds, the victim has immediate access to them and believes the check has cleared. In the end, the check is found to be counterfeit and the victim is held responsible  by the bank for all losses.

Another type of scam involves real estate that is posted via classified advertisement websites. The scammer duplicates postings from legitimate real estate websites and reposts these ads, after altering them. Often, the scammers use the broker’s real name to create a fake e-mail, which gives the fraud more legitimacy. When the victim sends an e-mail through the classified advertisement website inquiring about the home, they receive a response from someone claiming to be the owner. The “owner” claims he and his wife are currently on missionary work in a foreign country. Therefore, he needs someone to rent their home while they are away. If the victim is interested in renting the home, they are asked to send money to the owner in the foreign country.

Another way organized crime rings make money… There are several rings that are making a lot of money (and I mean a lot of money) producing pop-up security warnings that state their computers are infected with numerous viruses.

These pop-ups known as scareware, fake, or rogue anti-virus software look authentic and may even display what appears to be real-time anti-virus scanning of the user’s hard drive. The scareware will show a list of reputable software icons; however, the user cannot click a link to go to the actual site to review or see recommendations.

The scareware is intimidating to most users and extremely aggressive in its attempt to lure the user into purchasing the rogue software that will allegedly remove the viruses from their computer. It is possible that these threats are received as a result of clicking on advertisements contained on a website. Cyber criminals use botnets to push the software and use advertisements on websites to deliver it. This is known as malicious advertising or malvertising.

Once the pop-up appears it cannot be easily closed by clicking “close” or the “X” button. If the user clicks on the pop-up to purchase the software, a form is provided that collects payment information and the user is charged for the bogus product. In some instances, whether the user clicks on the pop-up or not, the scareware can install malicious code onto the computer. By running your computer with an account that has rights to install software, this issue is more likely to occur.

Downloading the software could result in viruses, Trojans, and/or keyloggers being installed on the user’s computer. The repercussions of downloading the malicious software could prove further financial loss to the victim due to computer repair, as well as, cost to the user and/or financial institutions due to identity theft.

The assertive tactics of the scareware has caused significant losses to users. The FBI is aware of an estimated loss to victims in excess of $150 million.

Be cautious, use common sense, and good judgement. Cyber criminals use easy to remember names and associate them with known applications. Beware of pop-ups that are offer a variation of recognized security software. It is recommended that the user research the exact name of the software being offered.

One of the most important suggestions I can ever give you: Take precautions to ensure the operating systems of your workstations/servers and the software of your networking devices are updated everytime a vendor publishes a security vulnerability.

To obtain information about the latest disclosed vulnerabilities in Cisco and non-Cisco products familiarize yourself with Cisco's Security Center, which can be accessed at http://www.cisco.com/security.

Additionally, you can subscribe to Security Intelligence Operations RSS feeds and receive notification when new information is available at: http://tools.cisco.com/security/center/rss.x?i=44

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Posted February 17, 2011 at 7:05 PM
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