The Internet has revolutionized everything, from communication and entertainment to business. By one estimate, the Internet contains approximately 487 billion gigabytes (i.e., 487 Exabyte's) of data, and by the end of 2010, there were more than two billion Internet users. Nearly one-quarter of these users are members of social networking sites such as Facebook. There are many reasons for the Internet's extraordinary growth, including its vast applications, anonymity, and global outreach. (Lynn, 2010).
However, many of the factors that have contributed to the Internet's success have also made it a dangerous place. Criminals now take advantage of the Internet to exploiting suspecting users for personal, political, and financial gain. The current essay is an exploration of the concept of internet scams and fraud. The author will discuss in detail how the internet fraud began and the way it is affecting the internet users. There will also be discussion of the internet fraud protection method. The author will also focus on the relation of criminals to the deviance theory.
Prevalence of Internet Crimes
There has been a considerable evolution in cybercrime from the days of troubled teenagers, demonstrating their technical skills, to highly organized criminal enterprises earning millions of dollars. The financial toll imposed by cybercrime is also met by other threats, including espionage, terrorism, and cyber-warfare. According to a report by CBS news (CBS News, 2010), cyber attacks targeting the power grid caused major blackouts that affected millions of people in Brazil in 2005 and 2007. Incidents of cyber-warfare were suspected in 2007, when Estonian officials relocated a Soviet war monument (Anderson, 2007) and again in 2008 during the conflict between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia (Danchev, 2008). At the time, armies of compromised computers all over the world were instructed to launch distributed denial of-services (DDoS) attacks against many government web sites in Georgia and Estonia, effectively knocking them offline.
In 2009, at least 34 corporations (including Google) were the targets of coordinated cyber attacks dubbed Operation Aurora that leveraged an unknown vulnerability in Internet Explorer to install malicious software (malware) that was capable of stealing sensitive information and intellectual property. The perpetrators of the breach are still unknown, but evidence suggests individuals in China may have been involved (Zetter, 2008). In June 2010, reports surfaced of an advanced piece of malware that targeted industrial control systems with an unprecedented level of sophistication, including multiple exploits that targeted unpatched or unknown vulnerabilities (i.e., 0-day exploits). This level of sophistication led some experts to suspect that the attack was state-sponsored and intended for Iran's nuclear power plants (McMillan, 2010). All of these events exemplify the increasing threat imposed by cybercrime and motivate the need for better protection, detection, and mitigation strategies.
In 2009, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reported a loss of $559.7 million dollars as a result of cybercrime. That was more than double the losses based on complaints filed just one year earlier in 2008, estimated at $264.6 million dollars. Figure 1.1 displays the losses reported to the IC3 over the past nine years. Note that from 2001 to 2009, there was more than a thirty-fold increase in losses due to Internet crime. The largest cybercriminal theft to date was an operation led by an American named Albert Gonzalez, whose crew is estimated to have cost businesses more than $400 million dollars (Verini, 2010) between 2006 and 2008. Gonzalez's crime syndicates gained access to approximately 130 million credit card numbers by hacking into Heartland Payment Systems, one of the largest credit card processors in the world, and victimized companies including T.J. Maxx, Target, Dave & Busters, Office Max, Barnes & Noble, JC Penney, 7-Eleven, and Boston Market. Gonzalez was captured in 2008 and sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for his crimes. The number and cost of data breaches has exploded in recent years. Scholars have described that deviance occurs when criminal persons breach the norms of society and do something beyond ethical limits.
The earliest forms of malware were delivered using removable media (e.g., floppy disks, CD-ROMs). Later, malware started to take advantage of the network to propagate. Fast-spreading worms were among the first malware subjects that were studied in depth (Moore, 2003). Most malware today, on the other hand, contains malicious payloads that are designed for profit, and spread mainly through three methods: unsolicited bulk email (i.e., spam), drive-by-download exploits, and various forms of social engineering.
Despite many research and industrial efforts, there is a large and increasing amount of malicious traffic in the Internet today. This includes, flooding and other (Distributed) Denial-of-Service (DDOS) attacks, email spam, click fraud attacks, reconnaissance scanning and worm propagation. In the last eight years, the volume of the largest DDOS attack reported has nearly doubled every year, from 400 Mbps in 2002 to 49 Gbps in 2009, and this trend is anticipated to hold in the near future. The number of email spam has grown steadily to reach about 84% of total email messages in 2010. Click fraud has become the third major thread in the Internet, after DDOS attacks and email spam, and it arguably represents the biggest threat to the Internet advertising industry, which sustains a wide range of free Internet services. (Arbor Networks, 2009). Here is another aspect of deviance which is related to internet users who fell prey to these spam emails. Thus except knowing that these e-mails are just waste of time as well as risk to loss of money they still check these spam emails.
Organized Criminal Networks & Law enforcement Agencies
As a result of internet crimes, a thriving underground economy has emerged to provide a marketplace for miscreants to exchange their services. There are far reaching implications to this underground economy, with businesses losing more than $1 trillion dollars annually. Within the Internet's underground economy are players with various levels of expertise that fulfill different roles. There are specialists in writing software, computer networking, counterfeiting, and money laundering. These criminals are assisted by the fact that the Internet spans the globe, and many countries do not hold electronic crimes to the same standard and severity as tangible crimes (e.g., sending unsolicited bulk email is legal in Russia). In particular, countries in Eastern Europe and Asia are suspected of harboring cybercriminals. The law enforcement in some of these countries may be corrupt, while others simply lack the resources to combat electronic threats. (Viveros, 2009)
As a result, highly-organized criminal networks have formed with business structures similar to legitimate corporations (F. Paget, 2009). For example, an organization known as Innovative Marketing (IM) operated out of Ukraine and is estimated to have defrauded victims of more than $180 million dollars. IM employed more than 600 people, including customer service and technical support staff in call centers all over the world (TrendMicro, 2010).
The most popular method of networking for cybercriminals is through online forums that serve specific communities such as spam, credit card theft (i.e., carding), and malware. These underground forums aid criminals in buying, selling, and exchanging services. Interestingly, these forums have recently been increasingly scrutinized by international law enforcement agencies.
In several instances, law enforcement agencies have been successful in infiltrating and arresting perpetrators using these forums. As an example, over the course of two years, beginning in 2006, the FBI conducted an undercover sting that garnered the trust of the highest-ranking members of a popular carding forum known as Dark Market, even convincing the operators to move the entire forum onto servers controlled by the FBI. The operation led to the arrests of more than 60 people involved in financial theft, and it prevented an estimated loss of more than $70 million dollars. In April 2010, law enforcement seized the CardingWorld.cc and CallService.biz forums and arrested several of the ringleaders. CardingWorld.cc…