Yes, Malware Is Organized Crime

We've all been attacked by small and nasty software packages.  And those attacks will continue as a fact of daily life. It's one of the dark realities of being digitally connected to the world.  

Max Nomad is a computer security researcher in Virginia.  He met with About.com to tell us more about malicious software, and how it is a primary tool of organized crime organizations.

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It's Not Bored Teenagers Anymore. Malware Is Outright Organized Crime.

Hacker with hood on
Paul M O'Connell/Moment Open/Getty Images

 About.com: Max: you say that malware is a tool of organized crime.  Aren't malware and spyware programs just the vandalistic hobby of bored teenage programmers?

 

Max Nomad: 

Bored teenagers? Those were the good old days. Since the early 2000s, almost all malware out in the wild has been created to steal identities, contact lists, passwords, credit/banking information, gamer accounts, photos – any data and resources that can be monetized. 

Cybercrime is just another sector of the IT industry. Even though it has a relatively low barrier to entry, top-notch skills are required to reach high profits. Malware coders get paid to write viruses. Hackers sell their services, often providing malware coders with computer vulnerabilities for their viruses to exploit. Spammers use armies of malware-infected computers to send out bulk emails; the 21st century perversion of direct mail marketing. Data gets traded like any other commodity. Identities get sold wholesale. There are supply chains and distributional channels. With the exception of how they make their money, a typical cybercriminal operation is indistinguishable from any other virtual company.  

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Malware Criminals Are Surprisingly Sophisticated

Organized cybercrime: malicious software programmers and distributors
Organized cybercrime: malicious software programmers and distributors. Andreas Kermann / Getty

About.com: Max: when you say 'organized crime', can you tell us what you mean?  How is that different from a loose group of anarchist hackers?

 

Max Nomad: 

I mean organized crime in every sense of the term. This ranges from two-bit wannabes to small hacker crews all the way up to transnational crime rings with ties to more “traditional” syndicates like the Bratva (Russian Mafia). Many groups even mimic the hierarchy of the Italian Mafia. Cybercriminals will be the Meyer Lanskys and Al Capones of the 21st century – and if we’re not careful, our computers will be the armies that help them rise to power. 

The anarchist hacker groups are driven by motives other than money. Hacktivists commit their crimes as part of pushing socio-political agendas. Often their hacks involve things like website vandalism, taking down networks and exposing people to draw attention to some cause. 

Lastly there are state-sponsored hackers, cyberterrorists and many others that don’t fit in a category – all with motives that cover the spectrum of good and evil. 

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Am I Protected Against Malware?

Keep your device healthy with anti-malware protection!
Keep your device healthy with anti-malware protection!. Tetra / Getty

About.com: Max: I personally use Avast and Avira antivirus on my home computer, and I have my firewall turned on.  Isn’t that enough to protect me from malware programs and attacks?

 

Max Nomad: 

That’s a great start. You should have the following: 

1.    a real-time antivirus/malware program installed and running,
2.    a malware removal program installed that can be run on demand, and
3.    an emergency malware removal rescue boot disc / thumb drive.

Why? Antivirus/malware protection is like living in a house on the beach and battling constant tidal erosion – during hurricane season. Thousands of new viruses and malware are discovered every day. Reverse engineering each new contagion may take anywhere from six minutes to six months to find an antidote. This is why no single antivirus / malware program is 100% effective. Protection against all forms of malware attacks requires vigilance along with a layered approach with multiple packages. 

Along with the main antivirus you’ve got installed I’d recommend having Malwarebytes antimalware installed and Kaspersky Rescue Disc 10 burned to DVD and on standby.

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So: What Do I Do to Protect Myself?

Where you can go for more protection
Where you can go for more protection. Page Design / Getty

About.com: Max: where do you suggest that readers to go for more information?  Are there some resources online that you can recommend that explain more about malware and organized cybercrime?

 

Max Nomad:  here are some of my initial suggestions for more information.

Malwarebytes antimalware:
https://www.malwarebytes.org/

Kaspersky Rescue Disc 10:
http://support.kaspersky.com/viruses/rescuedisk

Transnational organized crime:
https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/nsc/transnational-crime/threat

National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force:
https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber/ncijtf

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Getting in Touch with Max Nomad in Virginia

Max Nomad, blogger and I.T. consultant
Max Nomad, blogger and I.T. consultant.

About Max:

Max Nomad is an IT Consultant, Graphic Designer and computer security researcher with over 20 years of experience using internet technology to assist (and protect) small businesses. His advice on IT security has been featured in the Intuit (Quickbooks) Small Business Center, Hackbusters, eComTechnology, Cyber Defense Magazine and Frontline Safety & Security Magazine. He is also the author of Surviving The Zombie Apocalypse: Safer Computing Tips for Small Business Managers and Everyday People. A native of Virginia Beach, Virginia, he can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/maxnomad