8 December 2006
The boom in cyber crime is forcing criminals to go to great lengths to
recruit skilled hackers, says a report.
Some criminal gangs are paying students while they study to ensure they
have a pool of tech-savvy workers to call on, says the report from
Others are cashing in on the glamour of the hi-tech world to tempt
youngsters into embarking on a life of crime.
McAfee said children as young as 14 years old were being targeted by
some criminal gangs.
Greg Day, security analyst at McAfee and one of the authors of the
Virtual Criminology report, said it aimed to explore the digital
underground and how and where the criminal and hi-tech worlds meet.
"We wanted to understand a bit more about the motivation and how people
end up on this career path," said Mr Day.
The most successful cyber crime gangs were based on partnerships between
those with the criminals skills and contacts and those with the
technical ability, said Mr Day.
"Traditional criminals have the ability to move funds and use all of the
background they have," he said, "but they don't have the technical
As the number of criminal gangs looking to move into cyber crime
expanded, it got harder to recruit skilled hackers, said Mr Day. This
has led criminals to target university students all around the world.
"Some students are being sponsored through their IT degree," said Mr
Day. Once qualified, the graduates go to work for the criminal gangs.
As well as the direct route of targeting students, some organised crime
gangs were trading on the glamour surrounding the "hacker" label to help
them recruit impressionable youngsters, revealed the report.
The aura of rebellion the name conjured up helped criminals ensnare
children as young as 14, suggested the study.
By trawling websites, bulletin boards and chat rooms that offer hacking
tools, cracks or passwords for pirated software, criminal recruiters
gather information about potential targets.
Once identified, young hackers are drawn in by being rewarded for
carrying out low-level tasks such as using a network of hijacked home
computers, a botnet, to send out spam.
The low risk of being caught and the relatively high-rewards on offer
helped the criminal gangs to paint an attractive picture of a cyber
criminal's life, said Mr Day.
As youngsters are drawn in the stakes are raised and they are told to
undertake increasingly risky jobs.
"It's a lot easier for people to get into a level of doing serious
damage and not being entirely aware of what they are doing," said Mr
Sometimes those hooked in this way end up being blackmailed into doing
even more work because the criminal running them has good evidence of
what that young hacker has been up to.
Other criminal gangs are looking to recruit people inside companies they
want to target so they can get detailed knowledge about an
"Cybercrime is no longer in its infancy, it is big business," said Mr
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