Hacker Black Markets Continue To Expand

Black and gray markets for computer hacking tools, services and byproducts such as stolen credit card numbers continue to expand, creating an increasing threat to businesses, governments and individuals, according to a new RAND Corp. study.

One dramatic example is the December 2013 breach of retail giant Target, in which data from approximately 40 million credit cards and 70 million user accounts was hijacked. Within days, that data appeared -- available for purchase -- on black market Web sites.

"Hacking used to be an activity that was mainly carried out by individuals working alone, but over the last 15 years the world of hacking has become more organized and reliable," said Lillian Ablon, lead author of the study and an information systems analyst at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "In certain respects, cybercrime can be more lucrative and easier to carry out than the illegal drug trade."

The growth in cybercrime has been assisted by sophisticated and specialized markets that freely deal in the tools and the spoils of cybercrime. These include items such as exploit kits (software tools that can help create, distribute, and manage attacks on systems), botnets (a group of compromised computers remotely controlled by a central authority that can be used to send spam or flood Web sites), as-a-service models (hacking for hire) and the fruits of cybercrime, including stolen credit card numbers and compromised hosts.

In the wake of several highly-publicized arrests and an increase in the ability of law enforcement to take down some markets, access to many of these black markets has become more restricted, with cybercriminals vetting potential partners before offering access to the upper levels. That said, once in, there is very low barrier to entry to participate and profit, according to the report.

RAND researchers conducted more than two dozen interviews with cybersecurity and...

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