Monday, January 21, 2008

E-crime and Socioeconomic Factors

Interesting points by F-Secure with two main issues covered, namely the lack of employment opportunities for skilled IT people who turn to cyber crime to make a living, and the emerging economies across the globe, whose citizens in their early stages of embracing new economic models will suffer from the inevitable unequal distribution of income due to their government's lack of experience or motivation. To me, however, it's more sociocultural than socioeconomic factors that contribute to these future developments. Several more key points worth discussing :

- Malware is no longer created, it's being generated

The myth of someone reinventing the wheel, namely coding a malware bot from scratch is no longer realistic. Modern malware is open source, modular, localized to different languages, comes with extensive documentation/comments and HOWTO guides/videos. Moreover, these publicly obtainable open source malware bots were released in the wild for free, namely, the coders that originally started the "generators" or the "compilers" generation took, and enjoyed only the fame that came with coming up with the most widely used and successful bot family. Take Pinch for instance and the recent arrest of the "coders". New and improved versions of Pinch are making their rounds online, but how is this possible since the people behind it are no longer able to update it? To achieve immortality for Pinch, they've released it as open source tool, namely anyone can use its successful foundation for any other upcoming innovation. The original coders are gone, the "malware generators" and the "compilers" are cheering since they still have access to the tool. Another popular entry obstacle such as advanced coding skills is gone, anyone can compile, generate and spread the samples, or used them for targeted attacks.

- "Will code malware for food" type of individuals don't really exist anymore

A cat doesn't eat mice when it's hungry, it eats mice when it's already been fed, and therefore does it for prestige and entertainment. Storm Worm is not released by the "desperation department", it's an investment on behalf of someone who will monetize the infected hosts, or who has outsourced the infection process to botnet aggregators. Moreover, there's no lack of IT employment opportunities in times of growing economy, exactly the opposite, the economy is booming, investments are made in networks and infrastructure and therefore people will start receiving incentives for training and therefore the demand for IT experts will increase given the government is visionary enough to invest in the long-term, in terms of education and training. If it's not, structural unemployment will undermine the local industry, you'll end up with software engineers working at the local McDonald's during the day, and coding malware during the night - a stereotype. For instance, go through this article and notice the quote regarding the attitude towards the U.S. Malware coders/generators aren't on the verge of starvation, they're on a mission with or without actually realizing it :

"I don't see in this a big tragedy," said a respondent who used the name Lightwatch. "Western countries played not the smallest role in the fall of the Soviet Union. But the Russians have a very amusing feature — they are able to get up from their knees, under any conditions or under any circumstances. As for the West? "You are getting what you deserve."

It's a type of "Why are you doing me a favour that I still cannnot appreciate?" issue, collectivism vs individualistic societies. E-crime is not just easy to outsource, but the entry barriers in space are so low, we can easily argue it's no longer about the lack of capabilities, but the lack of motivation to participate, and actually survive, that drive E-crime particularly in respect to malware. From an economic perspective, the Underground Economy's high liquidity is perhaps the most logical incentive to participate, which is a clear indication on the transparency and communication that parties involved have managed to achieve.