New generation of Russian hackers pose a global threat

Not long ago, the simple, anonymous thrill of exposing chinks in American software was enough of a payoff for a Russian hacker.

Today it ’s cash. And almost all the targets are in the United States and Europe, where Russia ’s notorious hackers pilfer online bank accounts, swipe Social Security numbers, steal credit card data and peek at e-mail log-ins and passwords as part of what some estimate to be a US$100 billion-a-year global cybercrime business.

Arid when it ’s not money that drives Russian hackers, it ’s politics with the aim of accessing or disabling the computers, websites and security systems of governments opposed to Russian interests.

That may have been the motive behind a recent attack on Pentagon computers.

A new generation of Russian hacker is behind America ’s latest criminal scourge.

Young~ intelligent and wealthy enough to zip down Moscow ’s boulevards in shiny BMWs, they make their money in cybercubbyholes that police have found impossible to ferret out.

From behind the partition of anonymous online hacking forums, they boast about why they use their program savvy to spam and steal, mostly from the west.

~Why should I take a regular job after graduating and exert myself to earn just US$2,000 a month, rather than grab this chance to make money?" says a Russian hacker on a cybercrime forum that specialises in credit card fraud.

~1t makes sense to get as much as you can, as quickly as possible, rather than wasting time working for someone else." Cybercrime, by some estimates, has outpaced the amount of illicit cash raked in by global drug trafficking. Hackers from Russia and China are among the chief culprits, and the threat they pose now extends far beyond spain, identity theft and bank heists. Besides the recent attack on computers at the US Defence Department which may have originated in Russia, according to military leaders in Washington, Russian hackers are also believed to be behind highly co-ordinated attacks that brought down government websites in Estonia in 2007 and in US-allied Georgia when war broke out between Russian and Georgian forces in August.

They are even suspected of hacking into the computer systems of Barack Obama and John McCain during the US presidential campaign; technical experts hired by Mr Obama ’s campaign suspected the attacks may have come from Russia or China, according to Newsweek.

So far there has been no evidence of a link between the Russian government and any of the attacks on American, Georgian and Estonian websites and computers.

Nevertheless, the need to step up security of American cyberspace is being discussed with greater urgency in Washington. Last month, a commission on cyber-security delivered a report to Congress calling for the creation of a new White House office that would gird the US against computer attacks from hackers and foreign governments.

According to the commission, unimown foreign entities" in 2007 hacked computers at the departments of defence, homeland security and commerce, as well as Nasa. Hackers broke into Defence Secretary Robert Gates ’ unclassified e-mail and probed Defence Department computers "hundreds of thousands of times each day", said the commission, a panel of leading government and computer industry experts.

A senior State Department official told the commission that the department had lost thousands of gigabytes of data due to computer attacks, and among the homeland security divisions reporting computer break-ins was the Transportation SecurityAdministration, which provides airport security.

After the Soviet collapse in 1991, Russian hackers were primarily motivated by mischief. Now, most hackers in Russia are in it strictly for the money. Cybercrime gangs approach computer program graduates from Moscow ’s technical universities with offers of making sums of US$5,000 to US$7,000 a month, a far cry from Russia ’s average monthly salary of US$640, says Nikita Kislitsyn, editor of Hacker, a glossy Russian magazine with how-to information for budding hackers.

Russian police departments have cybercrime divisions, but arrests of major cybercriminals are rare.

"It comes down to a question of volume," said Steve Santorelli, investigations director at Team Cymru, a Burr Ridge, Illinois-based internet security research firm. "In Russia, there simply aren ’t the resources." McClatchy-Trjbune

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