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Malware Grown into Serious Business

Selling malware has become a full-fledged business now. A criminal justice professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte conducted a study to come to the conclusion that the business of selling malware has become highly evolved with support from advertising, marketing and support services.

UNCC Assistant Professor, Thomas Holt, chose DefCon 2007 to go public with the results of the study. The university information systems department had a major role in the study, running a honeynet to assist researchers in finding and joining the forums.

Holt's report, carried by Forbes.com on August 8, 2007, compared the working of average hackers' forum with that of eBay and a department store site. Several divisions are made based on interest areas including programming, scripting, Mac or Linux. There is also normally a buying area of some sort for shoppers to purchase tools or exploits like bots or credit card data collectors.

Holt puts the range of sales for a typical exploit in a hacker forum between less than $100 to over $3,000. He explains that it is also largely determined by the newness or the extent of its innovation. Buyers sometimes get an exploit which they reverse-engineer before handing it out for free, resulting in the value being extensively undermined.

Hackers are even known to rope in a third party for the advertising and sales on their behalf, with some offering discounts to repeat customers, similar to any business. Customers also have a choice of various payment options like Western Union for an extra fee. Lately, hackers have started selling easy-to-remember ICQ numbers, the preferred means of anonymous communication within forums, much like a business selling easy-to-remember phone numbers or URLs.

Holt talks about spam or DOS services selling for $25 or $100 an hour. Even for buyers not known for being tech-savvy, exploits now come with some post-sale services, with assistance from the hacker for implementation or customization to ensure the exploit serves the exact purpose for the customer.

Holt's study is built on research on 30 different hacker forums worldwide with emphasis on six forums which include those hosted in Eastern Europe.

Related article: Malware Authors Turn More Insidious

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