It will come as a surprise to no reader of this blog that gangs and organized crime have moved into cyberspace. And it will also come as no surprise that the media, legislative staff, and elected officials are usually a bit slow to grasp advances in technologies and their commensurate threats. (Let us not forget House Majority Leader Tom Delay’s invective aimed at Justice Kennedy for the heinous practice of “[doing] his own research on the Internet.” Which of the many “Internets” it was, Delay did not specify.)
The tech world has been abuzz for some time now over the role of organized crime and street gangs on the internet. Finally, after much pushing and prodding, it appears that the media may be paying attention.
Stealing and selling data has become so lucrative, analysts say, that corporate espionage, identity theft and software piracy have mushroomed as profit centers for criminal groups. Analysts say cyberextortion is the newest addition to the digital Mafia’s bag of tricks.
“Generally speaking, it’s pretty clear it’s on the upswing, but it’s hard to gauge how big of an upswing because in a lot of cases it seems companies are paying the money,” said Robert Richardson, editorial director of the Computer Security Institute, an organization in San Francisco that trains computer security professionals. “There’s definitely a group of virus writers and hackers in Russia and in the Eastern European bloc that the Russian mob has tapped into.”
Among 639 of the survey’s respondents, the average loss from unauthorized data access grew to $303,234 in 2004 from $51,545 in 2003; average losses from information theft rose to $355,552 from $168,529. The respondents suffered total losses in the two categories of about $62 million last year. While many cyberextortionists and cyberstalkers may be members of overseas crime groups, several recent prosecutions suggest that they can also be operating solo and hail from much less exotic climes – like the office building just down the street.
Additionally, a story in the March/April 2005 issue of Foreign Policy discusses the role of street gangs online and hints at their potential to bring gang-related financial dealings online. What starts as cybertagging will likely end up becoming something much worse as gangs increasingly become sophisticated business entities.
This is something that the community needs to proactively address in Congress and in the states. Cybercrime is being committed by organized enterprises here and abroad and it costs businesses annually millions, if not billions, in lost revenues, protection money paid, theft, and loss of reputation.