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Hackers Become Organised in Cyber Crime Industrial Revolution

Imperva : 02 March, 2010  (Technical Article)
"The Industrialisation of Hacking" report from Imperva details the seriousness of the threat being faced as a result of the way hackers are organizing their activities for maximum effect
Imperva has released a new report warning that hackers have become industrialised and represent an exponentially increased threat to individuals, organizations and Government. Imperva's report says the emerging industrialisation of hacking parallels the way in which the 19th century revolution advanced methods and accelerated assembly from single to mass production. The result is that today's cybercrime industry has transformed and automated itself to improve efficiency, scalability and profitability.

The report, The Industrialization of Hacking, can be downloaded from the Imperva web site.

As an example of this 'industrial revolution', Imperva has discovered a new hacker scheme that is infecting educational servers worldwide with Viagra ads that infect web users with malware when they visit the infected page on the legitimate education site. According to Imperva, cyber-criminals are using industrialized methods to automate an as-yet unreported search engine manipulation scheme that has infected hundreds, possibly thousands of .edu and servers worldwide with Viagra ads. "This attack on academic institutions highlights how hacking has become industrialized infecting servers from major institutions including UC Berkeley, Ohio State, University of Oxford and more. Ironically, this technique is the most prevalent method used to create havoc in cyberspace, yet remains virtually unknown to the general public," explained Imperva CTO Amichai Shulman.

The mass infection can be easily seen by searching Google US with the terms "Viagra and .edu"

Or Google UK with the terms "Viagra and .ac"

Key findings in the report include the organisational structure and technical innovations for automating attacks:

* Organisation structure—Over the years, a clear definition of roles and responsibilities within the hacking community has developed to form a supply chain that resembles a drug cartel. The division of labour in today's industrialized hacking industry includes:

- Researchers: A researcher's sole responsibility is to hunt for vulnerabilities in applications, frameworks, and products and feed their knowledge to malicious organizations for the sake of profit.
- Farmers: A farmer's primary responsibility is to maintain and increase the presence of botnets in cyberspace through mass infection.
- Dealers: Dealers are tasked with the distribution of malicious payloads.

* Technical innovations—Hacking techniques once considered cutting-edge and executed only by savvy experts are now bundled into software tools available for download. Today, the hacking community typically deploys a two-stage process designed to proliferate botnets and perform mass attacks.

- Search engine manipulation. This technique is the most prevalent method used to spread bots, yet remains virtually unknown to the general public. Essentially, attackers promote Web-link references to infected pages by leaving comment spam in online forums and by infecting legitimate sites with hidden references to infected pages. For example, a hacker may infect unsuspecting Web pages with invisible references to popular search terms, such as "Britney Spears" or "Tiger Woods." Search engines then scour the websites reading the invisible references. As a result, these malicious websites now top search engine results. In turn, consumers unknowingly visit these sites and consequently infected their computers with the Botnet software.

- Executing mass attacks through automated software—To gain unauthorized access into applications, dealers input email addresses and usernames as well as upload lists of Anonymous Proxy addresses into specialized software, the same way consumers upload addresses to distribute holiday cards. Automated attack software then performs a password attack by entering commonly used passwords. In addition, today's industrialized hackers can also input a range of URLs and obtain inadequately protected sensitive data.

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