by Matthew Jones
Cyber scams are increasingly being committed by organized crime
syndicates out to profit from sophisticated ruses rather than hackers
keen to make an online name for themselves, according to a top U.S.
official. But hackers often times 'graduate' to become criminals.
Christopher Painter, deputy chief of the computer crimes and
intellectual property section at the Department of Justice, said there
had been a distinct shift in recent years in the type of cyber
criminals that online detectives now encounter.
"There has been a change in the people who attack computer networks,
away from the 'bragging hacker' toward those driven by monetary
motives," Painter told Reuters in an interview this week.
Although media reports often focus on stories about teenage hackers
tracked down in their bedroom, the greater danger lies in the more
anonymous virtual interlopers.
"There are still instances of these 'lone-gunman' hackers but more and
more we are seeing organized criminal groups, groups that are often
organized online targeting victims via the Internet," said Painter, in
London for a cyber crime conference.
Typically these groups engage in ID theft, carding (the illegal use of
bank cards) and so-called Botnet armies where hundreds sometimes
thousands of computers are taken over and used to infect other
HARD TO TRACE
Precise figures on the global cost of online crimes are hard to pin
down, in part because some organizations prefer to keep quiet rather
than publicize that their networks have been successfully attacked.
In other cases companies and individuals are unaware they have been
The FBI estimates all types of computer crime in the U.S. costs
industry about $400 billion while in Britain the Department of Trade
and Industry said computer crime had risen by 50 percent over the last
"Because crimes are committed online a lot of people still don't
understand what is happening," said Painter.
A growing worry is that cyber crooks could target emergency services
for extortion purposes or that terrorists may be tempted to attack
critical utility networks like water and electricity.
Painter said there was a recent case in the U.S. where two young
hackers inadvertently switched off all the lights at the local
"There is no question the threats are varied and the perpetrators are
more sophisticated," he said. "On the upside the response is also
Transborder co-operation on Internet crime was improving with a number
of large multi-country raids demonstrating national enforcement
agencies can work well together.
Painter said better detection and more successful prosecutions also
needed to be mirrored by appropriate sentencing.
"In the United States certainly sentencing has become more significant
in the recognition of the seriousness of Internet crime."
He said hackers were being viewed less as "playful villains" while
organized cyber criminals were being hunted with the same vigor as
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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