Ex-Soviet hackers play outsized role in cyber crime world

Thu Aug 22, 2013 12:58pm EDT
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By Alissa de Carbonnel

MOSCOW (Reuters) - If you want to hack a phone, order a cyber attack on a competitor's website or buy a Trojan program to steal banking information, look no further than the former Soviet Union.

The breadth and sophistication of services sold on Russian-language websites such as Forum.zloy.bz or Forum.evil offer a small window onto a Russian criminal underground that is costing Western firms billions of dollars in credit card and online banking fraud as well as "phishing" attempts to lure people into downloading malware or disclosing passwords.

"If you look at the quantity of malware attacks, the leaders are China, Latin America and then Eastern Europe, but in terms of quality then Russia is probably the leader," said Vitaly Kamluk, a cyber security researcher in Moscow.

Two of the five most wanted men in the United States for cyber crime are Russian, and one is from Latvia, which used to be part of the Soviet Union.

Russians were also behind the biggest cyber crime case in U.S. history. Federal prosecutors named four Russians and a Ukrainian in a banking card fraud spree that cost companies including J.C. Penney Co, JetBlue Airways Corp and French retailer Carrefour SA more than $300 million.

The risk of being prosecuted is so low it does little to dissuade highly educated and skilful but under-employed programmers from turning to illicit hacking for profit or fun.

In a country where wages are lower than in the West and life is expensive, and which has long produced some of the world's best mathematicians, the temptation to turn to crime is great, and the hackers are in general ahead of the people trying to catch them.

"People think: 'I've got no money, a strong education and law enforcement's weak. Why not earn a bit on the side?'" said Alexei Borodin, a 21-year-old hacker.   Continued...

An employee works near screens in the virus lab at the headquarters of Russian cyber security company Kaspersky Labs in Moscow July 29, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin