The business of e-blackmail

commentary If current trends continue, physical crime rates should plunge drastically.But it's not all good news.

commentary If current trends continue, physical crime rates should plunge drastically.

But it's not all good news.

Criminals have taken industrial espionage and blackmail to new heights. A dangerous potion of corporate over-dependence on technology, weak computer systems, lack of security knowledge and policy enforcement has aggravated the situation.

Ask yourself. Which is more widespread? Hacking and phishing scams or bank hold-ups?

Ransom notes of yesteryear came in two forms -- typewritten or composed of cut out letters from newspapers or magazines -- and snail mail was the main mode of delivery. Today, it's an almost untraceable e-mail.

What's changed is the execution process but the motivation for these criminal acts remains the same -- greed.

E-blackmail is not something out of a sci-fi flick ... it's happening before our very eyes.

As hacking tools become more sophisticated, and crackers become smarter and more organised, unfortunately, it's getting easier to hijack company servers and classified information.

Three men were recently nabbed by Britain's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit in connection with a series of alleged online extortion attempts.

The trio -- said to be part of a Russian gang -- allegedly threatened to cripple online betting Web sites by launching distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks during peak traffic periods. Using e-mail addresses readily available on the gambling sites, the men reportedly demanded between 10,000 pounds (AU$26,000) and 30,000 pounds (AU$78,000) in ransom.

It's easy to see why online gambling sites were targeted. On a worldwide basis, this lucrative market is estimated to be worth hundreds of billions.

To make matters worse, a group of mercenary crackers called Source Code Club has turned intellectual property into a commodity by selling allegedly stolen software code.

Like hiring a caterer, the Source Code Club says that at a price, it will even take orders.

Another point of contention is outsourcing and offshoring -- if companies blindly commission critical data management operations to third parties, they risk exposing themselves to devious deeds.

Corporate data has inextricably become more valuable than the CEO. Servers and access to crucial information are held hostage. E-blackmail has become a permanent fixture ... this is the new world order.

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