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Beware the 'Shadow Economy'

Cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated than ever, warns report

Businesses should beware the shadow economy” of cybercriminals waiting to steal vital corporate and customer data, warns security software firm Finjan, which released its Web security trends report this week.

Cybercriminals have now achieved a level of sophistication far removed from the early days of nerdy hackers in search of publicity, warns Finjan. Instead, cybercrime “has become a major shadow economy ruled by business rules and logic that closely mimics the legitimate business world,” says the report. “With the transition of cybercrime from amateur hacker attacks to highly professional cybercrime business models, we see that the organizational structure of cybercriminals reflects this trend.”

Specifically, individual hackers or groups of hackers have been replaced by a hierarchical cybercrime organization, where each criminal has a well-defined role and reward system, bearing an uncanny resemblance to “La Cosa Nostra”.

Complete with "Boss," "Capo," and "Soldier" equivalents, the typical cybercrime organization bears a striking resemblance to the world of The Godfather or The Sopranos. Even "resellers" akin to the Mafia’s "associates" are used to trade stolen data, according to Finjan, fulfilling a similar role to a "fence" handling stolen goods.

As in the legitimate business world, these resellers use pricing models for different types of "product" -- in the this case, stolen credit card data. In one example provided in the report, prices range from just $15 for a standard Visa up to $70 for a Visa Platinum card.

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