Study: Cybercriminals cashing in on economic slide

McAfee says as governments face economic hardships, the fight against cybercrime is slipping further in funding and support.

Robert Vamosi Former Editor
As CNET's former resident security expert, Robert Vamosi has been interviewed on the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets to share his knowledge about the latest online threats and to offer advice on personal and corporate security.
Robert Vamosi
2 min read

Amid the global downturn in the economy, cybercrminals appear to be winning in the war against law enforcement. That's the sobering conclusion drawn by a panel of experts in a report from McAfee released Tuesday.

"We saw the cybercriminals take advantage of economic messaging very, very quickly," said Dave Marcus, director of security research and communications for McAfee Avert Labs. He said cybercriminals are cashing in on consumer anxiety, particularly around the holidays and noted that as more and more people go online looking for better deals, criminals are preying on their inexperience in order to lure them to bogus sites and old-fashioned "get rich quick" scams.

In the last 12 months the volume of malware has risen dramatically, according to McAfee. McAfee

One scam involves online job seekers responding to ads for "international sales representatives" or "shipping managers" being recruited as "cybermules" to launder the cybercriminal profits. "It's not a 'mule' in the traditional drug sense, where they're carrying drugs across the country or across a border," Marcus said, " but they are ultimately lured into what they think is like an Internet sales marketer or an Internet sales manager position." In reality they are laundering funds, putting it through additional hands, so that law enforcement has a few more obstacles in their path toward finding the thieves themselves.

Marcus recommends online job seekers go to legitimate job finding sites such as Monster.com rather than respond to Google ads.

Unfortunately, we're on our own, he said. As governments begin to focus on internal economic hardships, the fight against cybercrime slips further in funding and support. McAfee predicts that in the fourth quarter of 2008 cybercrime will continue to escalate in severity.

Once again, McAfee found that there is a shortage of computer specialists in law enforcement. And those who are specially trained are often hired away to high-salaried jobs at private companies. Of the remaining law enforcement, they're often bound to national borders, said Marcus, with international jurisdictional disputes further slowing online investigations.

The McAfee report said Russia and China remain the largest safe havens for cybercriminals, while Brazil and Moldova have become the fastest-growing countries to be most often blamed for cybercrime.