Profiling the cyber-criminal

In the book DarkMarket, author Misha Glenny says that “We now find ourselves in a situation where this minuscule elite (call them geeks, technos, hackers, …or what you will) has a profound understanding of a technology that every day directs our lives more intensively and extensively, while most of the rest of us understand absolutely zip about it.”

Misha interviewed criminals and the detectives who caught them in this new world, and the book “DarkMarket” is the result.

Some of the hackers make a good salary in their regular job – one example was Adewale Taiwo, originally from Nigeria, who was a successful chemical engineer working for an international company, but whose computer was full of files, and the files were full of credit cards. By contrast, some come from countries that lacked opportunity such as the Ukraine. Misha says that in the city of Odessa “everybody was compelled to behave in a certain criminal fashion as a matter of course.” It was a matter of “survival”. He quotes one hacker who logged on for the first time onto a website called CarderPlanet, which was a website for the trade in stolen credit card numbers, bank accounts, and other data. “I swear it was the same feeling that Ali Baba must have experienced when he first opened the cave and saw it stuffed full of treasure. Each section had heaps of information, which you could use to make yourself stinking rich without ever getting up from your computer!”
He added that “For innocent lads from the provinces like me who could at best expect to earn one hundred dollars a month, the financial promise of this unknown language-including words like Dumps, Drops, Wires, COBs – was mesmerizing.”
CarderPlanet was penetrated by the Russian Secret Police almost as soon as it was set up, but as long as the crime was directed at Americans and Europeans, the KGB had no motive to stop them.
One of the people who ran CardersPlanet was known as Boa, who was a gifted student of electronics with two university degrees. “Boa was hugely popular..He was feted from America across Europe to Australia” (for a ham-radio feat of broadcasting from North Korea) “Good-looking and exceptionally articulate, he was instinctively liked by people, and everyone wanted to be his friend.”
A major carder called “Script” was asked by a magazine “What motivates someone to become a carder?” and he replied “They’re motivated by what their hearts and minds tell them. Science has shown that people who take risks experience a rush of the so-called happiness hormone. That hormone, multiplied by whatever quantity of rustling dollar bills, plays the fundamental decisive part…” Script also said that carding is a lot less shameful than robbery because the card owners eventually get their money back from the banks.”
Of course, as Misha points out, the banks pass the costs of theft to their customers, so this is populist “twaddle” .
Misha says that in the late 1990s, much cyber criminal activity clustered in countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China. These countries had in common that their economies were moving and opening after several decades of stagnation. They had large populations…(with) a resurgence in exuberant and sometimes aggressive nationalism….Their education systems offered excellent basic skills. But, combined with extreme inequalities of wealth, this spawned a new class of young men, poor and unemployed, but–in contrast to earlier generations–with great material aspirations.”

Misha talks of the research of Raoul Chiesa, a former hacker. Raoul has an intimate knowledge of the hacking community, and he sent questionnaires to many of them. He says that

  1. most are male (95%)
  2. they are smart or very smart
  3. There is a high incidence, close to 100% of advanced ability in science: physics, math and chemistry
  4. There is a relatively low level of ability in the humanities
  5. most – not all – hackers find it easier to form relationships in the impersonal environment of the Internet than they do in real life. An abnormal number have problems communicating with their parents and family

Misha tries to speculate why, and he recalls the research of Simon Baron Cohen (Cambridge University). Simon found that there is a spectrum of male/female behavioral patterns. Males usually are better at systematizing the external world, whereas females are better at empathizing. Simon says the extreme male mind, which in certain circumstances could be described as ‘autistic’ is sometimes correlated with an extreme level of testosterone in the fetal environment. Misha says that the hackers do conform to many of the clinical observations recorded by Professor Baron-Cohen of personalities who sit quite far down the ‘male’ end of the spectrum.

Misha holds out some hope:
He says that “In my experience, 90 per cent of the hackers involved in criminal activities expressed a powerful desire to work within the licit security industry-and, even with a criminal conviction, they should surely be given the chance.”

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