Sunday, April 17, 2005

Web-based organized crime is fueling online identity theft

Organized crime is hijacking the Internet for its purposes. The Internet is the thief’s playground. These cons will exploit every channel and employ every tool at their disposal. Identity thieves and computer hackers will seek increasingly unconventional and shady channels for their shenanigans.

As reported by John McCormick and Deborah Gage of Baseline Magazine in a lengthy article last month, the phenomenon of Web Mobs flourishes. Web Mobs function much like traditional organized crime rings, but the affiliations are looser, and Web Mobs more easily evade law enforcement. The differentiator is that Web Mobs proliferate and exist exclusively online.

Organized crime has gained a stronger foothold online. Nigerian crime rings fueled widespread phishing scams last summer and, allegedly, the thefts at ChoicePoint over the past year. The Russian mafia has displayed an appetite for identity theft for a long time. Even 22-year-old white-bread American kids in Web Mob Shadowcrew stole millions.

In an illegal rendition of the business plan of data brokers such as ChoicePoint and LexisNexis, Web Mobs trade and buy credit card numbers and Social Security Numbers online for as little as $10 each. Then participants buy under the guise of unsuspecting others’ names.

The Web is great for organized crime, which is bad for legitimate business. Online ruses come to light and receive widespread attention. Consumers lose confidence in their security and become less inclined to shop and bank online.

The banking industry seems to be in denial and simply hasn’t harnessed opportunities to show clients it is on top of the problem. I haven’t seen one effective awareness campaign.

In yet another insight into online criminals’ creativity, Blogs have become a haven for malicious code. As reported by Gregg Keizer of TechWeb News, hackers are storing their keyloggers, spyware programs that furtively intercept identities emanating from people’s computers, at blogs. Blogs offer anonymity and a low threshold of security, which hackers prefer.

Online crime has reached pandemic levels this past year with more than 14 major breaches of data. Hackers, identity thieves, and Web Mobs have elevated their game in tandem with the expansion of the Web. The speed of technology has far outpaced its security.

The Internet has led to not only more opportunities for consumers, but also for criminals. Criminals look for the path of least resistance. The Web makes a virtual mugging or robbing a bank an easy score.

New identification technologies and hardening practices are needed now more than ever. Two-factor authentication and other innovations must be implemented on a wide scale immediately if not sooner.


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