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The Cybercrime Wave That Wasn't 85

retroworks writes "Dinei Florencio and Cormac Herley write that cybercrime depleted gullible and unprotected users, producing diminishing returns (over-phishing). They argue that the statistics on the extent of losses from cybercrime are flawed because there is never an under-estimation reported. Do they underestimate the number of suckers gaining internet access born every minute? Or has cybercrime become the 'shark attack' that gets reported more often than it occurs?"
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The Cybercrime Wave That Wasn't

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  • by Formorian ( 1111751 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @08:22AM (#39699171)

    I work in a place that gets many calls related to phishing scams. You would not believe how many people argue with you on the legitness of the letter, they just don't understand why the money hasn't come to them yet. I don't believe in the past 5 years I've been here, the volume has decreased. Hasn't increased either, it tends to be steady every year.

    My own parents were hit with a rental scam (even though I had told them always ask me first about anything fishy). It was hey we'll sign contract, here's money order, oh crap we sent you too much, can you send the difference back. Lost $500, but learned a lesson and changed how they do rental agreements as a result.

    So 1 fish is out of the sea, but unfortunately with billions of people on the planet, there are plenty suckers out there. Also, many of these scams appeal to the get rich quick mentality of people. I mean how come other scams can keep working unless people have this need that "maybe this is the time this works and I can stop working or afford ".

    To people thinking that every generation will get more computer savvy and this will go away, i tend to disagree. Just because a generation is tech savvy doesn't mean they won't fall for the temptation to make money quick, even if it does sound too good to be true.

    Anyway, just my 2 cents.

  • Still a problem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by alaffin ( 585965 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @08:51AM (#39699307) Journal

    Over reported? Possibly. Is it still a problem that is a long way from being solved? Yes.

    Just last week the university that I work at suffered a significant phishing attack that compromised a large number of email accounts (we don't have a complete count yet - the phisher turned around and used those accounts to send out spam and he didn't use all of them at one time). How did it work? Well, it wasn't very sophisticated - a dupe of our webmail login page (at a different URL) and an email that said "dear {university} account user...blah...account being locked...blah...go to this page {link to copy of page with fugly URL}...blah" from a Yahoo address. And the students (arguably an intelligent bunch, and most young enough to know how computers and phishers work) drank the kool-aid, clicked on the link and, in the end, made quite a mess.

    I've actually been in the room when people have said "hey, this Nigerian prince thing looks like a good idea" . I've spoke with people who let a phone caller from "Microsoft" take control of their PC. And it comes from both sides. I've received legitimate emails from my bank that l could've sworn up and down were from a spammer (unsolicited, from someone I've never met, from a branch that I don't go to, poorly formatted and offering me a free credit card) but which were upon further review (checked the email address and the phone number provided in the email with the bank's fraud division) were legit. That irks me the most because it just encourages people to accept stuff that doesn't pass the smell test.

    The more press this kind of thing gets the better. I'm not saying it should take headlines and mindspace from other, worthy causes but the fact is that people - including me - are stupid. If you don't hit us over the head every once in awhile to remind us why we ought not to do this than we probably will.

  • Feature, not Bug (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @09:27AM (#39699555)

    How do we reconcile this view with stories that cybercrime rivals the global drug trade in size? One recent estimate placed annual direct consumer losses at $114 billion worldwide. It turns out, however, that such widely circulated cybercrime estimates are generated using absurdly bad statistical methods, making them wholly unreliable.

    Having dug into some of the statistics publicized for the drug war, I would say that merely having "absurdly bad statistical methods" could be an improvement. In the drug war, statistics are frequently more or less made up. Remember, the people funding this research have a vested interest and a strong desire to have the numbers come out the way they want them to and, no surprise, they generally do. There are whole institutes, such as the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, whose statistics I regard as consistently untrustworthy.

    I would not be too surprised to see the same dynamic, and even the same people, involved in the cybercrime statistics game.

  • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Monday April 16, 2012 @11:57AM (#39700717)

    Which common computer crime problems does digital cash solve? []

    You know how you get this funny feeling about giving your credit card details to some unknown website, or over an unsecure connection, or to some stranger at a gas station? The reason you get that funny feeling is that you are worried that the person you just gave that information to might turn around and spend your money, a basic form of online credit card fraud. It happens all the time, and that information is one of the things that is traded on "carder" forums. Now we have an even worse problem: well known businesses might be attacked, and have databases full of payment information copied.

    Now, a digital cash smart card is another story. You have a card with enough memory to store some digital cash tokens and some circuitry for carrying out a digital cash protocol. You want to buy something online? Plug your smartcard into your computer (why don't we ship computers with smartcard readers?), make the payment, and the worst that can happen is that the counterparty never delivers what you purchased. No fears about your credentials being used to make fraudulent payments, no worries about a database of payment information, and your money can only be stolen the traditional way: someone taking your smartcard from your wallet.

    This was one of the original points of digital cash. Anonymous payments are not good because they let you evade government regulations, they are good because they do not create identity theft problems. Digital cash is good because it is anonymous, and because it is hard (in a cryptographic sense) to make fraudulent payments without at least betraying your identity in the process (and thus opening yourself up to prosecution).

    I am not going to claim that all financial crime problems will be solved with digital cash. People will still need to transfer cash to their smartcards somehow, which is something that also needs to be secured. The point here is that we could defend ourselves from a large and important class of computer crimes by deploying relatively inexpensive hardware (a one-time cost) and some well-developed cryptographic protocols.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun