Economics of Malware

CRN Australia's piece on the economics of malicious software is fascinating. They assert that the days of intellectual curiosity-fuelled hacking are behind us and that today's botnetters and spyware creeps are all about the dough. However, competition seems to have crashed the price of some of the market's commodities, like infected PCs, which only generate a $0.30 payment to the infector. I wonder if botnet time itself has crashed -- with botmasters controlling botnets with tens of millions of PCs, you'd think it'd be pretty cheap to get ahold of ten or twenty thousand boxes to do some distributed computation or to zap that kid who just fragged you in Counter-Strike. I keep waiting to see spam for botnet time (apart from the spam offering to send spam, which, of course, is a kind of botnet rental) -- "GET A MILLION PCS FOR AN HOUR: ONLY $5!"
"There are programmers who are working for brokers, and the brokers are selling the malware to other criminals, who are then reselling the malware to other criminals," says Trend Micro's Parry. "When they capture a bunch of systems, they resell those systems to another criminal, and another criminal. The actual hacker types don't want to get their hands dirty with something that would actually send them to prison." Other groups build affiliate networks that tap into legitimate and semi-legitimate businesses. In a presentation at the Defcon hacking conference this year, Peter Gutmann of the University of Auckland's Department of Computer Science described networks in which businesses would pay affiliates up to 30 cents for each machine they infect with spyware or adware...

Other operations mirror legitimate software as a service providers. These "malware-as-a-service" providers rent out access to botnets or Web-based attack tools. Gutmann noted one example in which a Russian group rented out its malicious Website. A prospective buyer could get the 100 visitors for free, but then had to pay US$4 per 1,000 visitors up to 5,000, US$3.80 per 1000 up to 10000, and US$3.50 per 1,000 if they bought 10,000 or more. "Software rental is just another way to get money out of this market," says Oliver Friedrichs, Symantec's Director of Security Response. "It's common to see authors who write keyloggers and botnetworks, and then rent them out to people ultimately who may launch a phishing campaign or a spam campaign."

Link (via Beyond the Beyond)



  1. Here is the actual Peter Gutmann presentation this article is based on. It is looking pretty scary out there.

    Just so it’s not all gloom and doom, he also includes some suggestions on things that serious geeks can do to protect themselves, such as running a relatively less popular browser (Firefox, Opera, Safari), reading mail via a Unix shell interface, browsing through a filtering proxy you run yourself on a Unix box, etc.

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