Hacking large companies as Albert Gonzalez is alleged to have done can be profitable. But stolen credit cards and other data may not sell for as much on the black market as you expect.
The black market economy of the cyber-world is always busy,
especially in an age of massive data breaches like the ones that occurred at Heartland
and Hannaford Brothers.
According to research from
posted Aug. 17, U.S.
credit cards are not worth as much as you might think. While analyzing malware,
virus analyst Dmitry Bestuzhev came across a Website with pricing
information for the credit cards swiped by cyber-crooks. The highest prices
belonged to German credit cards, which sold for $6 (USD) a piece. U.S. Visa
cards sold for $2.
"It's certainly difficult to say how many sites like this there are
now," Bestuzhev said. "I believe it's not very many because the bad
guys don't need to largely market their business. Their customers know them
already and if there is a new one, it is passed along by others. It's a kind of
'know each other' in terms of online life."
They also provide customer service-there was technical support available in
German and English.
In some ways, cyber-gangs like the one behind the Heartland
and Hannaford breaches may be victims of their own success. According to some
researchers, the sheer amount of stolen information being sold in the
cyber-underground has pushed down prices. In 2008, for example, researchers
at Finjan Software
reported that credit card and bank account numbers with
PINs were going for $10 to $20 each in some cases.
Still, given the possible profits in breaches involving hundreds to
thousands of cards, it should come as little surprise that identity theft
malware is on the upswing. PandaLabs, the research arm of Panda Security,
percent of the 37,000 pieces of malware it finds daily are Trojans, many of
which are designed to steal bank details or credit card numbers.
Luis Corrons, technical director of PandaLabs, said one possible reason
for this is the economic crisis.
"This in conjunction with organizations that have made a business out
of selling personal information on the black market, such as credit card
numbers, PayPal or eBay accounts ... we have also seen an increase of the
distribution and infection of this kind of malware through social networks,"
Corrons said in a statement Aug. 20.
While the potential profits of a data breach can be high for a hacker, conversely,
they can be financially damaging for a business. According to a survey by the
Ponemon Institute, the average
cost of a data breach
from detection to notification and response was $202
per record in 2008. That's an increase from $197 per record in 2007. For
businesses, this can put the cost of a data breach into the millions.
Then there is, of course, the cost of lost business. For those reasons, it
is important for businesses
to stay vigilant.
"In any number of recent data breaches, including Heartland and TJX
, the entity isn't aware that that a breach has occurred until some time later,"
said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle. "Since PCI
compliance requires integrity monitoring, it's puzzling that these companies
didn't know there was something unauthorized going on in their networks."