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Customized trojans, for a price
If there's one thing we've learned, just about anything is available for a price.
Dmitri Alperovitch from CipherTrust gave an excellent presentation at Virus Bulletin on phishing trojan creation toolkits. His talk was about how it's now possible to go out and purchase a fully customized Trojan horse for phishing purposes, one that can inject new fields into a legitimate web page. In other words, the average Joe Criminal can go out and purchase a toolkit that can create a targeted, fully customized trojan horse capable of evading the detection of anti-virus software, and then use it to steal money from innocent people. There's still the issue of getting this trojan in the right place, but let's take this one step at a time.
The example Alperovitch showed was quite advanced, capable of numerous features like support for encryption and two-factor authentication that allows a less sophisticated cyber criminal to make just the right kind of trojan. Setup the required features and click the button that says compile. I found it all quite shocking, to be honest - I did not know how far these trojan toolkits have come, or how much it can lower the bar. One of the greatest security fears of any organization is (or should be) targeted trojans, because of their capability to steal virtually any information inside an organization and remain undetected for some time. I won't take the liberty of mentioning some of the toolkits here, which range from $100 to $5500.
What can these trojans help steal? Money, for starters. Phishing works because most people can't identify a fake website. Let's also consider another use for them. It's easy to imagine a targeted trojan running on a payroll manager's computer inside a Fortune 500 company, logging keystrokes, taking screenshots, and responding to commands from someone on the other side of the world or someone just next door. Add me to your payroll, please. A bit far-fetched? Hopefully your organization has the proper policies and procedures in place to prevent this.
When the early reports of hackers teaming up with organized crime first surfaced, I'll admit I was skeptical. I found it hard to imagine a geek, albeit a criminal one, meeting up with the mob in a dark alley somewhere and plotting their next attack. But we're talking big money now, millions and tens of millions of dollars in some of the trojan-phishing-botnet-spam scams. Maybe much more. The link to organized crime and traditional low-tech criminals for cyber criminals is more likely one of pure necessity converting virtual money stolen from individuals and companies still has to be converted to real money, and that's where traditional crime rings and money laundering come into play.
Law enforcement is pretty good at investigating the low-tech end result of high-tech crime, and that's where they should continue to focus. Rather than turn police officers into hackers, they should continue to work with (and pay) security people to unravel the technical capabilities. Let me put some emphasis on paying security folks for their hard work.