Organised e-crime targets students for recruitment

Criminals moving from more traditional to online crime are recruiting from universities and security conferences, according to police and security sources

As organised criminals move from more traditional crimes, such as armed robbery, towards e-crime, there is evidence that they are targeting university students, graduates and the tech savvy for recruitment, according to security experts and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

"We are aware of anecdotal evidence of organised criminals [who are] moving into e-crime targeting people at an academic level," a Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) spokesperson told ZDNet.co.uk on Friday.

According to Paul Simmonds, chief information security officer for AstraZeneca, one of the root causes of computer security issues is funding. According to Simmonds, computer criminals are in a far more lucrative trade than security professionals, and are in a position to fund people's computer science courses at university in return for hacking expertise after the course has finished.

"The root cause of the issue is that the bad guys are better funded than we are," said Simmonds. "They have research and development programmes, they are putting people through university, they are calculating return on investment and they have better quality assurance. By comparison, the legitimate security industry is under-funded, under-resourced and constantly on the back foot."

Security vendor Trend Micro told ZDNet.co.uk that it has also seen hacker recruitment in universities, including in China.

"We do see recruitment in universities — so-called 'companies' recruiting talent for hacking," said Eva Chen, chief executive officer of Trend Micro. "They call themselves 'consultancy companies'. We've seen them recruiting in China."

Trend Micro's chief technology officer, Raimund Genes, told ZDNet.co.uk that security conferences also provide recruitment opportunities for organised criminals.

"Yes, they put them through university, and they are clearly recruiting at [security conferences]," said Genes. "Competitions like 'capture the flag' showcase talent. As a forum, there are security specialists, geeks who are not sure whether they want to go to the dark side, and guys [recruiting] who are definitely on the dark side."

Soca said that, while it was "not willing to go into specific detail about which techniques" criminals are using, it was also aware of hacker recruitment at security conferences.

"If [organised criminals] need to employ specialist skills, they will go to sources that cover specialist skills," said the Soca spokesperson.

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