Rentable crime networks latest cybersecurity threat

Criminal bot networks are the latest cybersecurity threat to government, corporate and home computers, according to a new report on cybersecurity by McAfee Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., a provider of intrusion prevention and risk management solutions.

Bot networks are created by viruses and enable a hacker or organized gang to control a computer network from a remote location ? even from the other side of the globe. Once cybercriminals establish a bot network they can conduct a coordinated attack to steal identities or intellectual property, the report stated.

"The goal of many cybercriminals is to infect thousands of computers and turn them into a network of devices that have been compromised by worms or viruses and attack in unison on command," according to the McAfee Virtual Criminology Report. "Those who succeed in creating such a 'bot network' or 'bot net,' now have access to a very powerful tool for crime."

Cybercriminals can create their own bot networks or they may rent bot networks from other criminals or hackers at the rate of $200 to $300 an hour, the report said.

"Bot nets are crucial to executing distributed denial-of-service attacks, spam and phishing scams, which makes them the growing weapon of choice for fraud and extortion," the report added.

The FBI estimates cybercrime cost about $400 billion in 2004. Identity theft is the most damaging crime against individuals, while viruses have been the most costly for businesses, McAfee said.

Before 2000, most cybercrime was committed by individual hackers seeking to prove their prowess. But now the major growth is occurring among organized gangs of criminals engaging in extortion, drug running or pornography on the Internet. Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies are struggling to keep pace, McAfee said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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