By Bob Brown
As if FBI special agent Tim OBrien and his cybercrime fighting comrades
dont already have their hands full with bot herders, virus writers and
other loosely-aligned crooks, now people are wondering when more
traditional organized crime will grab a piece of the action.
Following his presentation at CIO Forum, OBrien was asked by one
technology pro about whether the real-life Tony Sopranos of the
organized crime world have caught the cybercrime bug.
I dont think traditional organized crime in this country is involved in
the cybersphere yet, but thats certainly a possibility, he says. A lot
of its benign crimeit goes under the radar and most people dont know
anything about it. Its not murder, its not racketeering, its stuff thats
not going to make a headline. The chances of making a tremendous amount
of money off that without getting caught are much higher than going out
and murdering your enemies.
More common are loosely organized criminals from other parts of the
world where job prospects arent so good. These various specialists some
expert at developing malware, others at distributing it via a botnet and
others with the ability to sell stolen data -- scheme to infiltrate
computers and networks and commit fraud, says OBrien, who refers to the
malware used to perpetrate such crimes as crimeware.
?America is the target. We have the assets and systems here and we have
a lot of people who are looking to profit off that, OBrien says. He and
a handful of other FBI agents from New York City joined 300-plus CIOs at
the CIO Forum event aboard the Norwegian Dawn cruise ship in hopes of
getting the tech executives to open up about their security concerns and
to encourage their participation in information sharing programs such as
Citing recent statistics from surveys conducted by the FBI and vendors
such as Symantec, OBrien says the findings are scary: More companies are
being targeted; malware writers are pumping out their programs faster
than ever; and all indications are that intruders increasingly are
looking to turn a profit. Half of what people are reporting are just
trojans, not worms or viruses so much, OBrien says. That indicates the
actual mindset of whats going on out there, that people are looking to
place something on the system to prepare a beachhead for later
Compromised routers (access to Cisco systems that can be used for
denial-of-service attacks can be had for $2) and host computers have
become commodities, constantly swapped online by cybercrooks for stolen
credit card and Social Security numbers, OBrien says.
And the stakes are only getting higher. New self-defending malware is
even being created that purges protections such as anti-rootkit software
and that squelches other malware so that compromised systems cant be
shared by other thieves, OBrien says. Some malware is smart enough to
recognize if its in a VMware or other virtualized environment and can
unload itself so it cant be debugged, he says. Other malware can avoid
detection by changing its signature via a new filename and increasingly
modular malware can be distributed across a network to avoid a single
point of failure.
Other trends are increased exploitation of Web applications, though good
old e-mail attachments are still being used as well, OBrien says. The
FBI is finding it tougher to track botnets these days, as they
increasingly are being connected over encrypted channels rather than via
channels such as IRC. Theyre also being distributed via peer-to-peer
technologies, making botnets more resilient, he says.
The FBI and other law enforcement bodies have been able to tap into some
of the interaction among cybercriminals on IRC and other chat systems,
though the bad guys are even getting smarter on that front by starting
to use encryption.
Help us help you
OBrien wound up his presentation with a plea for IT executives to work
with the FBI to nail cybercriminals, including those who operate outside
the United States.
Compared to when I started doing computer crimes four or five years ago
the bureau today is very well positioned to run an investigation that
involves botnets and foreign nexus. We have agents in over 50 embassies
now around the world from countries as diverse as the United Kingdom and
Yemen[Our agents] work with foreign law enforcement.
IT executives can help the FBI crack cases by reporting incidents as
soon as possible and by sharing network and other logs, as well as IP
addresses involved, OBrien says.
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